Coca Leaves & Altitude Sickness: Fact or Fiction?

Coca Leaves & Altitude Sickness: Fact or Fiction? - An Apple a Day

Coca Leaves & Altitude Sickness: Fact or Fiction? – An Apple a Day

When I told our travel doctor we were doing the Inca Trail (up to 4125m above sea level), he was VERY quick to tell me that there was ABSOLUTELY NO scientific evidence that proved Coca leaves helped with altitude sickness; they were a myth he said, a placebo and not to waste my time with them. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about them to discuss it further and to be honest, I was a little taken aback by his forceful approach. I brushed it off and decided to research it as soon as I got the chance. Turns out he was right; of the very limited medical trials done on coca leaves, none of them proved drinking coca tea or chewing coca leaves actually helps with altitude sickness but there are 1,000s of ppl who swear by them. 

When we arrived, the hotels offered free coca leaves and coca tea to all travellers. “Please drink it to help with altitude sickness” they said. I decided to trust the locals (and hey, what did I have to lose?) and give it a go.

Fortunately, I didn’t suffer much altitude sickness (maybe it was the pre-emptive use of the leaves?), rather a low blood sugar after 4hrs of climbing up to the summit (you lose your appetite at high altitudes and didn’t eat enough, yes I should have listened to our guide and learned my lesson quick smart), but Andrew did and swears the coca leaves helped. I asked others on the trek and they also agreed they helped considerably, some carrying Coca tea along the trail with them just in case. If you have ever done the Inca trail, you’ll know that this empire knew what they were doing ahead of their time. Perhaps Coca leaves are one of those things, perhaps not? Have you ever used Coca leaves at high altitudes?

What were your experiences?


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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.