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Acute Mountain Sickness; Prophylactic Benefits of Antioxidant Vitamin Supplementation at High Altitude

Damian M. Bailey, Bruce Davies. High Altitude Medicine & Biology. March 2001, 2(1): 21-29.

Published in Volume: 2 Issue 1: July 6, 2004

Hypoxia Research Unit, Health and Exercise Sciences Research Laboratory, School of Applied Sciences, University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, South Wales, UK CF37 1DL.
Free-radical-mediated damage to the blood-brain barrier may be implicated in the pathophysiology of acute mountain sickness (AMS). To indirectly examine this, we conducted a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial to assess the potentially prophylactic benefits of enteral antioxidant vitamin supplementation during ascent to high altitude. Eighteen subjects aged 35 ± 10 years old were randomly assigned double-blind to either an antioxidant (n = 9) or placebo group (n = 9). The antioxidant group ingested 4 capsules/day-1 (2 after breakfast/2 after evening meal) that each contained 250 mg of L-ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), 100 IU of dl-α-tocopherol acetate (Vitamin E) and 150 mg of α-lipoic acid. The placebo group ingested 4 capsules of identical external appearance, taste, and smell. Supplementation was enforced for 3 weeks at sea level and during a 10-day ascent to Mt. Everest base camp (5180 m). Antioxidant supplementation resulted in a comparatively lower Lake Louise AMS score at high altitude relative to the placebo group (2.8 ± 0.8 points versus 4.0 ± 0.4 points, P = 0.036), higher resting arterial oxygen saturation (89 ± 5% versus 85 ± 5%, P = 0.042), and total caloric intake (13.2 ± 0.6 MJ/day-1 versus 10.1 ± 0.7 MJ/day-1, P = 0.001); the latter is attributable to a lower satiety rating following a standardized meal.

These findings indicate that the exogenous provision of water and lipid-soluble antioxidant vitamins at the prescribed doses is an apparently safe and potentially effective intervention that can attenuate AMS and improve the physiological profile of mountaineers at high altitude.