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Altitude vs Cold Therapy

You may know that your crazy mad scientist sleeps in an altitude chamber. Right now, I have adapted to 13% oxygen, equivalent to 12,000 feet above sea level.

Why do such a thing? As a cyclist and a former cross-country skier, I was made aware of the concept of "Live High - Train Low." This method was perfected by the Scandinavians who put American cross country skiers to shame.

Back then, I assumed that living in a state of depleted oxygen increased red blood cell counts and hematocrit, leading to more oxygen through the blood. However, research indicates that spending time in a hypoxic environment also increases blood vessel density.

The Japanese now outlive Americans by 9 years. Part of the reason is their lifestyle promotes healthy blood vessels.

Here are some key findings published in this paper.

In one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in partnership with the Harvard School of Global Health have found that people living at higher altitudes have a lower chance of dying from ischemic heart disease and tend to live longer than others.

"If living in a lower oxygen environment such as in our Colorado mountains helps reduce the risk of dying from heart disease it could help us develop new clinical treatments for those conditions," said Benjamin Honigman, MD, professor of Emergency Medicine at the CU School of Medicine and director of the Altitude Medicine Clinic.

"Lower oxygen levels turn on certain genes and we think those genes may change the way heart muscles function. They may also produce new blood vessels that create new highways for blood flow into the heart."

Another explanation, he said, could be that increased solar radiation at altitude helps the body better synthesize vitamin D which has also been shown to have beneficial effects on the heart and some kinds of cancer.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Honigman, senior author of the study, along with researchers that included Robert Roach, PhD, director of the School of Medicine's Altitude Research Center, Deborah Thomas, PhD, a geographer at the University of Colorado Denver and Majid Ezzati of the Harvard School of Global Health, spent four years analyzing death certificates from every county in the U.S. They examined cause-of-death, socio-economic factors and other issues in their research.

They found that of the top 20 counties with the highest life expectancy, eleven for men and five for women were located in Colorado and Utah.


Here is my setup - messy bed and all. The "all" includes an oxygen sensor and a pulse oximeter. I also have an infrared light switch for when both sides of the tent are zippered.


Here is another of many studies on this topic.

Beside genetic and life-style characteristics environmental factors may profoundly influence mortality and life expectancy. The high altitude climate comprises a set of conditions bearing the potential of modifying morbidity and mortality of approximately 400 million people who are permanently residing at elevations above 1500 meters.

The available data indicate that residency at higher altitudes are associated with lower mortality from cardiovascular diseases, stroke and certain types of cancer. In contrast, mortality from COPD and probably also from lower respiratory tract infections is rather elevated. It may be argued that moderate altitudes are more protective than high or even very high altitudes. Whereas living at higher elevations may frequently protect from the development of diseases, it could adversely affect mortality when diseases progress.


This one was published in 2021.


Preclinical studies have disclosed complex signaling cascades whereby hypoxia bolsters myocardial resistance to ischemia and reperfusion. β-Adrenergic activity, moderate ROS formation and intracellular hypoxia mobilize CREB, Nrf2 and HIF-1 to activate their respective gene programs.

The myriad products of these genes augment anaerobic ATP production and membrane Ca2+ transport, suppress apoptosis, preserve mitochondrial integrity and confer powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection to blunt ischemia-reperfusion induced myocardial injury. Defining the extent to which these diverse mechanisms effect cardioprotection in humans is crucial to develop interventions harnessing these mechanisms to treat and prevent ischemic heart disease.


This is why I originally decided to sleep in a hypoxia tent. I have been wanting to do this for 30 years since I first admired the athletic prowess of the nordic skiers.


The effect of live high-train low on hemoglobin mass (Hbmass) and red cell volume (RCV) in elite endurance athletes is still controversial. We expected that Hb(mass) and RCV would increase, when using a presumably adequate hypoxic dose.

An altitude group (AG) of 10 Swiss national team orienteers (5 men and 5 women) lived at 2,500 m (18 h per day) and trained at 1,800 and 1,000 m above sea level for 24 days. Before and after altitude, Hbmass, RCV (carbon monoxide rebreathing method), blood, iron, and performance parameters were determined. Seven Swiss national team cross-country skiers (3 men and 4 women) served as "sea level" (500-1,600 m) control group (CG) for the changes in Hbmass and RCV.

The AG increased Hbmass (805+/-209 vs. 848+/-225 g; P<0.01) and RCV (2,353+/-611 vs. 2,470+/-653 ml; P<0.01), whereas there was no change for the CG (Hbmass: 849+/-197 vs. 858+/-205 g; RCV: 2,373+/-536 vs. 2,387+/-551 ml).

Serum erythropoietin (P<0.001), reticulocytes (P<0.001), transferrin (P<0.001), soluble transferrin receptor (P<0.05), and hematocrit (P<0.01) increased, whereas ferritin (P<0.05) decreased in the AG. (Ferritin reduced to accommodate a higher concentration of iron to create the higher amounts of hematocrit).

These changes were associated with an increased maximal oxygen uptake (3,515+/-837 vs. 3,660+/-770 ml/min; P<0.05) and improved 5,000-m running times (1,098+/-104 vs. 1,080+/-98 s; P<0.01) from pre- to postaltitude.

Living at 2,500 m and training at lower altitudes for 24 days increases Hbmass and RCV. These changes may contribute to enhance performance of elite endurance athletes.


I do cold therapy to bring blood to overworked muscles. However, I was always quite sure it did not permanently change physiological values as does hypoxic living. Many studies confirm this.

Regular exposure to a cold factor—cold water swimming or ice swimming and cold air—results in an increased tolerance to cold due to numerous adaptive mechanisms in humans. Due to the lack of scientific reports on the effects of extremely low outdoor temperatures on the functioning of the human circulatory system, the aim of this study was to evaluate complete blood count and biochemical blood indices in multiple Guinness world record holder Valerjan Romanovski, who was exposed to extremely cold environment from −5 °C to −37 °C for 50 days in Rovaniemi (a city in northern Finland).

Valerjan Romanovski proved that humans can function in extremely cold temperatures.

Blood from the subject was collected before and after the expedition. The subject was found to have abnormalities for the following blood indices:

  • testosterone increases by 60.14%,

  • RBC decreases by 4.01%, (wrong direction!)

  • HGB (hemoglobin) decreases by 3.47%, (wrong direction!)

  • WBC decreases by 21.53%,

  • neutrocytes decrease by 17.31%,

  • PDW increases by 5.31% (Platelet distribution width -wrong direction) Percentage changes in other complete blood count and biochemical indices were within standard limits. Long-term exposure of the subject (50 days) to extreme cold stress had no noticeable negative effect on daily functioning.

My message to Joe Rogan: Why freeze your ass off for little benefit when you can sleep in a cozy tent and derive great benefit?

Big Joe is NOT a scientist - and is just following a trend!


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More on altitude training/intermittent hypoxia coming from Dr. Mercola and his guest, Dr. Arkadi Prokopov.

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Thank you Dr. Lewis for the article. Now I somehow know why the indigenous community of the Burusho and the Wakhi people of the Hunza Valley live the longest, comparable to that of the Amish community and the "Blue Zone" people (like the Okinawans).

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Good article! Thanks for posting.

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Wow, you are a mad scientist and you are loving it! Some wives allow their husbands to man caves but very few allow for Frankenstein labs. All you have to do now is bring your lab table and Frankenstein halogen lights into the lab tent for double the benefit. Looks like there is enough room, but the halogen lights might melt the plastic tent.

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