Podcast Transcript of Altitude Sickness & The Brain Stage of O2
Dr. Greene: (00:01)
Hi, this is Dr. Greene
and Ms. Greene and greetings from Chile. Hola!.
Dr. Greene: (00:06)
Hola! We are on a surprising trip and today we went to see the Atacama Cosmology Telescope high in the Andes Mountains, which was an amazing experience at 17,200 feet,
Dr. Greene: (00:43)
Yeah, I can tell you some things we’ve done for a long time about altitude sickness and some things that are kind of brand new and shocking. Well, let me tell you about how oxygen, how altitude sickness works. When the oxygen levels get low in the air, our body responds by trying to get more oxygen. So the first thing that we do is breathe more quickly.
Yeah, yeah. When, when we first got there and they opened the van doors, I just started hyperventilating, not a lot but just a little bit.
Dr. Greene: (01:11)
And then as the breathing quickly changes the Ph of the blood and the oxygen levels in the blood start going down and so our body responds again without us even thinking about it. By increasing the heart rate, you’re going to pump oxygen around to the tissues. And then the body begins to dilate blood vessels to get the oxygen into the tissues. And so you feel your heart beating. And with the dilation, you can feel headaches come on,
Dr. Greene: (01:39)
And you feel a little bit dizzy because not enough blood get into your brain, especially if you’re kind of active. And then if the altitude sickness is progressing, you’ll tend to get weak in the legs.
And what about nausea?
Dr. Greene: (01:51)
Nausea too. And both of those come from trying to shunt all the blood you can to your brain to protect that. And so you feel nauseous, you feel weakness all over, you’re sick, you feel sick all over, and then you start to, you think you’re foggy.
Dr. Greene: (02:23)
And there are medications you can take to help prevent altitude sickness. Especially if you’re going above 9,000 feet and we won’t talk about that so much in this podcast, but if you are starting to get symptoms, getting a little bit of oxygen and the face mask can be really powerful. And that’s not too surprising since lack of oxygen is the problem.
Right. And I’ve never had that before.
Dr. Greene: (02:46)
And then it starts, your breathing starts to slow down and your oxygen levels in the blood start to come up. Your Ph starts to normalize, your heart rate slows down, your thinking is better, your strength is better. Nausea goes away. It’s like this amazing solution.
Dr. Greene: (03:12)
Yeah. A little. Just a little bit. Yeah.
A little canister that we each had. And what they said is at the first sign just take a puff. Don’t think about it. Don’t try to hold out. Don’t try to be macho. Just take a puff. So when we got out of the van, we immediately went into this little building and by the way, it was very cold. Yeah.
Dr. Greene: (03:34)
Yeah. It is just like Moonscape Alpha up there. Yeah. It was, it was barren and the wind was blowing so hard and it was so cool.
Dr. Greene: (04:11)
Yeah, we should say just real briefly. The telescope itself is amazing. It’s helping to look at the birth of stars and the birth of galaxies and the reason it’s so high up is you want to find a place at high elevation. So there’s very little to block the view of space. And that’s extremely dry without moisture in the air. That’s why it’s in a desert and a far away from light pollution. And that’s why this is out in the middle of nowhere.
Yeah. I’m super impressed with the scientists who are putting this together. The whole thing — just a fabulous experience.
Dr. Greene: (04:41)
But the other thing we want to tell you about is there’s now been a series of studies that have been replicated on seven different mountains and six different continents. So this is real science. And what they found is that if you take people that have already done the ascent, something like this, they have had oxygen, they have felt the relief of that.
Dr. Greene: (05:04)
Dr. Greene: (05:48)
This cascade of responses to prepare for whatever’s about to come and then adjusting for the situation. So this case where they got nothing, but they already experienced relief from oxygen and the body felt the face mask. What happened was immediately the hyperventilating went down and immediately the heart rate started to lower back to normal and the blood vessels went back to normal and the Ph in the blood went back to normal. The oxygen levels didn’t change at all, but the headaches went away. The nausea went away on treadmill tests. Their performance improved, their muscle strength and endurance improved and their thinking and cognition tests improved. So they had all of the improvement except the oxygen getting back, which they needed. But it gave them this, this brief time where they were able to think clearly and moved to get back to a safe spot. So our brains are just incredible how powerful they are
That is so amazing. It sounds almost like we’re tricking ourselves.
Dr. Greene: (06:51)
No, it’s not tricking at all. It’s almost the opposite of that is in everything that we do, our brain is on high alert, scanning the world around us, anticipating what may come next, orchestrating a cascade of results, and then adjusting to the new situation. And this is just one example that’s shocking to us because it’s so extreme. But even with something as fundamental as oxygen, our brain responds.
Dr. Greene: (07:43)
No, no, no, no. Use the oxygen. But if you’re ever stuck, that’s worth knowing.
Well, it sounds to me like it’s time for us to get going, cause I think dinner calls.
Dr. Greene: (07:56)
It does indeed. Buenos Noches!