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johndavidjr

Cigarettes helpful?

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Can smoking cigarettes be helpful at high altitude? An abstract from the Wilderness Medical Society seems to say yes.

LINK

There was a serious, non-scientific and inconclusive debate about this topic discussed by Everester Frank Smythe in the 1930s.

 

Smoking is of course detestable, and to anyone trying to quit or who is likely to become addicted, I must appologize for this post.

Edited by johndavidjr

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Interesting. Seems to me that the elevated hemoglobin levels found in smokers' blood could be due to the fact that when you smoke, you are inhaling carbon monoxide, and that actively competes with oxygen for space on the hemoglobin. So in order to carry as much oxygen as a non-smoker, the body must have more hemoglobin. So having more hemoglobin at that elevation may not actually be helping the smokers that much.

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The Vapor Genie (http://vaporgenie.com/) is what you want... my old college roommate makes these and he's banking! Perhaps he would sponsor a high-altitude study.

 

I once topped out on the fixed lines on the West Butt huffing and puffing to find a Russian calmly sitting there smoking a cigarette. He finished his smoke, shouldered his pack and took off at twice our speed.

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in general, at high-altitudes, being happy and energetic is important - cigs may not be physiologically helpful, but if smoking makes you happy, they're key!

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In Nepal they call it Sherpa oxygen. While trekking over there, I here stories of various Sherpas lighting up at very high altitudes, claiming that it helped them climb better.

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I once topped out on the fixed lines on the West Butt huffing and puffing to find a Russian calmly sitting there smoking a cigarette. He finished his smoke, shouldered his pack and took off at twice our speed.

 

Russians don't count. He was probably bare-chested, too.

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I wonder why nobody makes ultralight bongs?

 

They do, $8 at avalon in B'ham. :grlaf:

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I used to do environmental consulting for the south american mining industry, and my observations would support this article. My company would regularly take old, fat, out-of-shape geologists from the US up to mine sites located at 4,000+ meters, and it seemed that the smokers fared better than the non-smokers, at least in the short term.

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A randomized trial is the only way to tell for sure. Get an Everest expedition or two to randomly assign oxygen cannisters, half of them fortified with cigarette smoke. See who summits, see who dies. :D

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In "No shortcuts to the top" Ed Viesturs mentions a couple of different groups of people he climbed 8000m peaks who smoked most of the way up the mountain.

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Create a third group whose tanks are "fortified" with jenkem.

 

already been done...see Henry Todd

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I wonder how many people have climbed everest without O's and didnt even know it because they were using his cylinders.

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I've spent over a month at ABC on the North side of Everest. We were trying the NE Ridge, but there were a bunch of people in different groups trying the N col route. There was a group of French guys out to set a speed record. All the French guys would hang out at ABC and smoke lots of unfiltered cigarettes.

 

No group summited the mountain that year via any route. All the frogs seemed happy hanging out and smoking. I was more into trying the Sherpas chew that you would mix with lye before chewing and spitting. All the Sherpas had a good time getting me to chew tobacco.

 

I can also tell you that boredom and the medical kit didn't cause problems. :grlaf:

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I've been to high altitude twice. On the first trip, I did no training and didn't worry about smoking even on the approach. I was dancing at 21,000'. The second time I refrained from smoking AND trained by running with a pack for six months before I went on the trip. On that trip I never properly adjusted to even basecamp altitude and I was DEFINITELY NOT dancing at anywhere near 21,000'.

 

This must mean that exercise is bad for you, and smoking is healthy.

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I think there are a few ways to look at this:

 

With acute exposure, if you look at it from a physiologic standpoint, smoking would not be expected to be helpful. Cigarette smoke puts carbon monoxide into the blood. This, in turn, displaces oxygen from hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen inside the red blood cells) and, as a result, the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood goes down. Less oxygen delivery to exercising muscles should theoretically impair performance. This has not been studied systematically at high altitude but given the physiology of it all, I think avoiding smoking (or at least heavy smoking) during ascents to high elevations is a not unwise move. It's obvious, however, that many climbers get away with smoking without adverse effects. Perhaps they aren't smoking enough to elevate their blood stream carbon monoxide levels to the point that this physiology would really have an adverse impact on performance.

 

What they are talking about in the study involves more chronic exposures: weeks, months and beyond at high altitude. You do not make red blood cells instantaneously at altitude. Low oxygen levels in the blood stream lead to elevated EPO levels pretty quickly but it will take a while before the red blood cells are actually manufactured and out circulating in the blood stream. The "lift" the sherpa say they sometimes get from smoking on their climbs isn't coming from the red blood cell issue but more likely from the stimulant effect of the nicotine.

 

If you are a healthy person with adequate iron stores in your body (the case with most people except women with very heavy menstrual periods), you will likely produce more than enough extra red blood cells to raise your hematocrit to an adequate level to assist oxygen delivery; the added benefit you would derive from the extra red blood cells that might come from smoking at altitude would likely be small.

 

 

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Strickly Anacdotal but the study that started much of the discusion was from an era when a large part of the function of the peloton in races like the Tour de France was with teammates helping each other smoke a few with out stopping. It was felt that the nicotine helped in the hill climb sections.

 

It made for some interesting pics of the early tour. But,for all the bucks those types spend it's pretty obvious how much they found it to help.

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Gang: Thank you for response. Of course, my implied suggestion is in general, absurd. But the study isn't commenting at all on smoking as health hazard.

 

The more logical posts raise question concerning carbon monoxide in blood stream. But perhaps this matieral doesn't persist very long in the blood, relative to the persistance of higher levels of hemoglobin, and other apparently useful bloodstream materials reported for smokers vs nonsmokers.

 

Maybe the moral of the story is, myself and most people, are unqualified to evaluate the data, but common sense ought to prevail.

 

Ketch: The study is recent, very narrow, and concerns altitudes that aren't applicable to Tour de France. So your comments, like a few others, are probably ill-informed.

 

As for Frank Smythe's debate, I believe the Everesters of 1920s and 30s were quite competent to evaluate their performance, but perhaps not competent to evaluate health effects of smoking.

 

 

...

 

 

 

 

Edited by johndavidjr

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The more logical posts raise question concerning carbon monoxide in blood stream. But perhaps this matieral doesn't persist very long in the blood, relative to the persistance of higher levels of hemoglobin, and other apparently useful bloodstream materials reported for smokers vs nonsmokers.

 

The more important thing with carbon monoxide is the level it reaches in the blood stream. Each hemoglobin molecule has 4 binding sites for oxygen. When carbon monoxide is in the blood, it will bind to these sites and prevent the hemoglobin from picking up oxygen. This dramatically decreases the amount of oxygen the blood can carry. Carbon monoxide has 240 times the affinity for hemoglobin than oxygen which means that once it's in the blood stream, it will bind quickly and remain there for a while. If someone smokes a few cigarettes, a small percentage (< 10%) of their hemoglobin molecules may have carbon monoxide bound to them. This probably isn't of much consequence. If someone chainsmokes, they can raise that percentage up to 10-15% and if someone is caught in a bad fire or has a car run in their garage overnight flooding the house with carbon monoxide, they can reach levels of of carboxy-hemoglobin (carbon monoxide bound to hemoglobin) well over those levels and can get really sick. It's the levels of carboxy-hemoglobin that will determine the physiologic consequences.

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