IS CHEWING COCA LEAVES OR DRINKING COCA TEA AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO DEAL WITH ALTITUDE SICKNESS?
CHEWING COCA LEAVES
High altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Syndrome (AMS), is a condition caused by low oxygen concentration at high altitudes. People who live in mountainous regions have chewed on coca leaves for centuries as a way to help acclimate quickly and reduce the effects of AMS. Coca tea is also widely consumed in these areas for its purported curative properties.
Despite its widespread use, research has been inconclusive about whether chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea are truly effective remedies for altitude sickness. This article will explore the science behind the usage of these traditional methods to deal with this debilitating condition.
Coca in the history of the Inca empire and Latin America
Coca leaves have been used for centuries in the Andean region as a way to help people acclimate quickly and reduce the effects of altitude sickness. The Incas believed that consuming coca could help them adjust to high altitudes and reduce fatigue. This belief has been passed down through generations, and today coca tea is widely consumed in many parts of Latin America for its purported curative properties.
However, there is still debate about whether chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea are truly effective remedies for altitude sickness. While some studies have suggested that these traditional methods can provide relief from the symptoms of AMS, more research is needed to determine their efficacy.
In addition to its potential medicinal benefits, coca also has cultural significance in the Andean region. For many indigenous communities, consuming coca leaves is an important part of their spiritual practices and rituals. As such, it is important to consider both the scientific evidence and cultural context when evaluating the effectiveness of using coca as a treatment for altitude sickness.
Causes of Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness is caused by a decrease in oxygen concentration at high altitudes. This decrease in oxygen can cause symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headaches, and fatigue. It can also lead to more serious conditions such as pulmonary edema or cerebral edema. Altitude sickness is most commonly experienced when people ascend quickly to altitudes higher than 8,000 feet (2,400 meters).
High Elevation Symptoms
Symptoms of altitude sickness can vary from person to person and range in severity. Common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. In more severe cases, people may experience confusion, disorientation, chest pain or tightness, rapid heart rate, coughing up blood or fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
Traditional Uses of Coca Leaves and Tea for Altitude Sickness
Coca leaves and coca tea have been used for centuries by people living in mountainous regions as a way to help acclimate quickly and reduce the effects of altitude sickness. The traditional use of coca leaves and tea is believed to be beneficial due to their high concentration of alkaloids, which are compounds that can act as stimulants. It is thought that these alkaloids can help increase oxygen levels in the blood, reduce fatigue, and improve overall energy levels. Additionally, coca leaves and tea are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties which may help reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness.
Nowadays coca tea is a welcome drink in Cusco before their trips to Machu Picchu, almost 100 % of the hotels offer it to visitors to Cusco; and it is of normal use among the locals and visitors.
Some South American countries also use it and its cultural use is legal in countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, but only in some states where its use dates back to the Inca empire among indigenous people.
Scientific Evidence for the Effectiveness of Coca Leaves and Tea for Altitude Sickness
Despite its widespread use, there is limited scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of coca leaves and tea for altitude sickness. Studies have shown that coca leaves and tea can help reduce fatigue and improve energy levels, but it is unclear if this is due to their alkaloid content or other factors. Additionally, there is some evidence that coca leaves and tea may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies conducted by Harvard University show that 100 grams of coca leaves contain almost 2 grams of potassium, necessary for the healthy functioning of the heart. Also, it is said to aid in weight loss. Given its vitamin and trace element content, coca tea can be seen as both a food and medicinal purposes.
Carbohydrates 46.2 g
Dietary fibre 14.4 g
Fat 5.0 g
Protein 18.9 g
Water 6.5 g
Retinol (vit. A) 6598.68 μg (733%)
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.35 mg (27%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2) 1.91 mg (127%)
Niacin (vit. B3) 1.3 mg (9%)
Pantothenic acid (vit. B5) 0.685 mg (14%)
Vitamin B6 0.508 mg (39%)
Folic acid (vit. B9) 0.13 μg (0%)
Vitamin C 1.4 mg (2%)
Vitamin E 29 mg (193%)
Calcium 1540 mg (154%)
Copper 1.21 mg (0%)
Iron 45.8 mg (366%)
Magnesium 213 mg (58%)
Manganese 6.65 mg (333%)
Phosphorus 911 mg (130%)
Potassium 2.02 mg (0%)
Sodium 40.6 mg (3%)
Zinc 2.7 mg (27%)
Overall, there is not enough evidence to definitively say whether chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea is an effective way to deal with altitude sickness. While some studies have suggested that it may be beneficial, more research is needed before any conclusions can be made.
Thousands of travellers recommend it and recognise that it has been an important help in their journey to the Inca city of Machu Picchu.