Volume 11, Issue 64 | August 8, 2014
Why people living at high altitude
have better blood flow
Have you ever wondered how villagers living high in the mountains at dizzying heights can do it? After all, if oxygen is the stuff of life, and some live at oxygen levels that would make a flatlander hypoxic, how do they do it?

Answers are coming from Tibet, the rooftop of the world, where the average altitude is over 12,000 feet. Tibetans do well even with oxygen concentrations so low that would cause most sea-level dwellers to get altitude sickness. Science has shown that these people do have lower levels of oxygen in their blood. But they consume just as much as we do. Science has discovered how.

A Cleveland team of researchers studied 88 healthy volunteers from the Tibetan district of Panam Xiang, where the elevation is 4,200 meters (over 12,600 feet). They compared the Tibetans to a group of 50 volunteers from Cleveland, living about 600 feet above sea level. The team measured the subjects' blood flow noninvasively. They found twice as much blood flow in the arms of the Tibetans as through the arms of the lowlanders. Amazingly heart rates and blood pressures were no different between the two groups. Same heart rate, same blood pressure, but twice as much blood flow. What's the secret?

It's our pal nitric oxide. Tibetans had more than 10 times the amount of this most powerful arterial dilating compound or its metabolites as lowlanders. That's "unprecedented for healthy people," the authors say, although the Tibetans do not seem to suffer any ill effects. If your ability to make nitric oxide is impaired, you could suffer anything from high blood pressure, to circulatory compromise, to erectile dysfunction. It would have been interesting if the researchers had tabulated the sexual prowess of the Tibetan elders.

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This brings me back to remind you of a device I told you about several years ago. It's the opposite of oxygen therapy, called a hypoxicator. Instead of concentrating oxygen for you to breathe, it removes it, so that when you use the machine, it simulates high altitude. This creates a positive stress for the body forcing adaptation. Studies have shown that the hypoxicator can condition you, improve your exercise tolerance, and most importantly, improve circulation to your heart. The human body can adapt more efficiently to physical and biological stress than emotional stress. We are made to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

I have a hypoxicator in my office. If you live in our area, you might want to give it a try. You just sit and breathe its output for 30 minutes to an hour, as it gently takes you up to altitude. That gentle stress on your system might just help you make lots more nitric oxide, opening up your arteries and conditioning your circulatory system. And if you are not in our area, you might ask your gym to obtain one for conditioning. It doesn't require a prescription. You don't have to go to 12,600 feet in Tibet to win on this one. Gentle stress adaptation, even with challenges of lower oxygen, can help you condition!

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