Chinese herbs for Altitude Sickness

This is the second post on herbs for traveling.  This one focuses on altitude sickness.

Condor at Canyon de Colca

Peru was our first high altitude trip.  In Peru, we went to the Canyon del Colca, the towns on top of Canyon de Colca are at 3700 meters.  At this height, altitude sickness is an concern.

We had come from Arequipa, a colonial city in the Mountains, resting at about 2300 so there was some time for our bodies to adjust. We took a 6 hour bus ride over dirt roads with the locals and their smaller farm animals, chickens and a baby lamb.

There, on top of the Canyon de Colca, we met Remijio, our guide for the three day hike.  Remijio made walking into an art, with his graceful steps.  He knew much about the local herbs, remedies for diarrhea, stomach pain, and gynecological disorders.

At the onset of the hike, we ascended to the highest point over the canyon, 3700 meters, but then descended over 1000 meters.  Remijio kept reminding us “Despacio, descpacio (slowly, slowly). ” We were feeling ok overall, no headache, naseau, or other symptoms of altitude sickness.

I had been reading earlier about the Chinese herb called Dong Chong Xie Cao, or Cordyceps which doctors of Chinese Medicine have used for altitude sickness.  Cordyceps is a mushroom that is known to grown on the bodies of worms and insects in the Tibetian pleateu.   It is known to warm the body and boost yang qi.

Traditionally, cordyceps is used for asthma and allergies, cancer support, and certain types of pain and fatigue.  At times, it has also been used by athletes as a energy booster.

After the three day hike, we did not have altitude sickness at all.  We had been taking the cordyceps for 2 weeks prior.  Yang qi warms and give the body energy helping to prevent altitude sickness.

Some have theorized that cordyceps and energy boosting Chinese herbs help the body to better utilize the oxygen in the blood, therefore helping to prevent sickness.  Another theory is that these herbs actually help you produce more red blood cells giving the body the ability to carry more oxygen in the blood and prevent altitude sickness.

I have since used cordyceps on trips to China and Mexico.  Giving yourself time to acclimate and following an experienced guide is the most important action to stay healthy and safe.  Chinese herbs have helped to reduce my symptoms of altitude sickness.

About Buying Cordyceps

Wild cordyceps is very expensive because it is very rare.  Wild cordycpes is gathered in the fields of the Tibetian plateu.

Sadly the high price tag has lead to a black market and much adulterating of the product.  I recommend finding a quality company that grows natural organic cordyceps.  I personally use Aloha medicinals, but I am sure there are others.

Read More: There is a great article on Chinese herbs for Mountain Sickness at the Institute for Traditional Medicine.

photo: chrisaut

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.
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