About 20 percent of people who travel to the Rocky Mountains or other peaks over 8,000 feet experience acute altitude sickness. It’s due to oxygen deprivation and results in headache, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. Altitude sickness occurs most often when people travel quickly from lower altitudes to higher altitudes. It has nothing to do with fitness levels, and both men and women are equally likely to suffer from altitude sickness.
A related condition is chronic mountain sickness (CMS). Although acute altitude sickness occurs in people who are not accustomed to spending time at high altitudes, CMS develops during extended time living at a high altitude, generally over 10,000 feet.
It’s characterized by an increase in the size of red blood cells in combination with a low level of oxygen in the blood. It sometimes results in pulmonary hypertension, a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and the right side of the heart. Severe pulmonary hypertension may lead to congestive heart failure.
New research from China suggests that the isoflavones in soybeans might be a treatment for CMS. Twenty-eight male patients suffering from CMS, who were living on the Qinghai‑Tibetan plateau at about 17,000 feet high were given 20 milligrams of isoflavones twice per day for 45 days. There was no placebo group, because the ethics committee refused to permit a study that allowed patients with CMS not to be treated. Consequently, the efficacy of isoflavones was based on comparing symptoms in patients before and after treatment. The dose of isoflavones in this study was equivalent to 1 ½ to 2 servings of soyfoods.
At study conclusion essentially all measures of CMS had improved. For example, in nearly half of the patients, the size of the red blood cells was no longer elevated. Also, pulmonary hypertension was markedly improved and oxidative damage was attenuated. These benefits came without any identifiable side effects. The authors of this research proposed that isoflavones are a potential low‑cost treatment for CMS.
Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine 7: 275-279, 2014