Do Coca Leaves Help Altitude Sickness?

Do Coca Leaves Help Altitude Sickness

The stimulating effect of coca leaves is well known, but their effects on altitude sickness are not. Here's what you need to know about coca leaves for altitude sickness.

Do Coca Leaves Help Altitude Sickness?

Coca leaves grow in the Andes Mountains of Peru and Bolivia, which is home to large amounts of people that are at higher elevations than most places on earth. They're also used by many people in the Andes Mountains to combat altitude sickness — and it's not uncommon to see people chewing on them. So what's the deal? Do coca leaves actually help with altitude sickness?

The answer is yes, but science doesn't fully understand know how or why.

The merits of this pain reliever have been hotly debated. Some people say coca tea is nothing more than a placebo with a mild stimulant effect. Others say it helps them acclimatize to high altitudes, and relieves headaches and nausea.

Why do coca leaves help altitude sickness?

Scientists are divided about whether the leaf can help with altitude sickness, but there has been some promising recent research. It suggests that coca leaves might be able to help tourists adapt faster to high altitudes so they can enjoy their travels without experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness.

  • One study done in Cajamarca Peru found that chewing coca leaves enhances physical performance at high altitude through biochemical benefits.¹ It recognized these effects are probably related not cocaine, but to the flavonoids found in the leaves.¹

  • Another study researched how in the Andean culture, Coca is seen as a remedy for symptoms experienced when traveling or working at high altitude.²  Studies of the physiological effects of coca on the body have helped to better comprehend its process of function and its possible impact on high altitude activities.²

  • Anthropological Research suggested a physiological mechanism of Coca may suppress erythropoiesis, the production of red blood cells, helping to relieve altitude sickness symptoms.³ A high red blood cell count traditionally could be a sign of dehydration, heart disease, or polycythemia, making sense of its possible relation to altitude illness.³

The problem with coca leaves and plants is its prohibitive and illegal to bring into the United States for any purpose, including use for things such as tea. Its only an option if going to experience altitude in Peru and can buy some coca leaves there locally. You could also buy altitude pills for Machu Picchu if that's on your itinerary.

Otherwise your best bet is using supplements to prevent altitude sickness such as an altitude adjustment pill or a general altitude adjustment supplement.

Coca Tea Altitude Sickness

Coca tea for altitude sickness is the most popular way that locals take coca leaves. Coca tea is a beverage made from the leaves of the coca plant.

Coca tea is made by boiling coca leaves in water.

1. First, put a teaspoon of dried coca leaves infuser with hot water.
2. Steep for 20 minutes for a dark brew, or 10 minutes for a light brew.
3. If preferred, add honey or lemon for taste.

These leaves are readily in marketplaces around countries like Peru, in which you can purchase to make coca tea for altitude sickness before your trek.

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1. Does Chewing Coca Leaves Influence Physiology at High Altitude?
2. Coca: High Altitude Remedy of the Ancient Incas
3. Coca Chewing and High-Altitude Stress: Possible Effects of Coca Alkaloids on Erythropoiesis
4. Making Coca Tea For Altitude Sickness
5. Coca Tea Altitude Sickness
6. Coca And Altitude