10.11.15

High Altitude’s Never-Ending Love For Hypoglycemia

High Altitude and Low Blood Sugar

On trail to Mt. St. Vrain in the Rocky Mountain National Park

2 days. 8 low blood sugars. The numbers tell the story: the higher you climb, the lower you fall. We all enjoy good paradox, right?

Am I a mountain man? No, partly because it takes me 3 weeks to grow a 5 o’clock shadow, and I spend the majority of my life at sea level. Oxygen likes to have a good time at sea level. It glides into my lungs with relative ease, slips into my blood, and enjoys homeostasis. At high elevations, especially those approaching 10,000 feet, oxygen gets depressed. It hides out with its cats and starts crocheting. In response to this hermitism, the heart works double time. Being that the heart is a relatively selfish organ in its oxygen (and subsequently glucose) use, it singlehandedly elevates our metabolism, by 10-20% at my best guess.

So what’s the end result for the insulin-deficient? Low blood sugars. When you toss in a bit of strenuous hiking on a non-acclimated body, you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for consistent hypos.

It’s now day 3. I’m about to set out on a hike. Just scarfed down a healthy sized breakfast and I’m defying all logic with a no bolus policy. Why? Well, because it’s hard to bounce back from a low just 30 minutes into a hike. I’ll check every 30 minutes, avoid complete diabetes management ignorance, and bask in some mountain air.

If you’ve traversed the high altitude diabetes management journey, drop us a few tips below!

Former co-founder of DiabetesDailyGrind, Ryan's mission is to motivate others with diabetes to live their own authentic life. Most days, when not in the hospital during his medical residency, you can find him on the bike, surfboard, or yoga mat. He believes in the power of clean eating, and loves his Dexcom.

9 thoughts on “High Altitude’s Never-Ending Love For Hypoglycemia

  1. Everytime I go from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe (Sealevel to 6000ft) my blood sugars go crazy. Usually I am fighting hypoglycemia, but sometimes its hyper. It makes no sense at all.

    • Spencer, I’ve experienced the roller coaster too. Here’s my theory: our heart is working harder at altitude (thus burning more glucose). I’m heading back up there in a few weeks and plan on dropping the basal 10-20%. We’ll see what happens.

  2. I was raised in southern Texas. Moved to Utah elevation 6,000 feet. My BG levels are very low and I tried everything. I can’t seem to get it under control. I’ve been here for 6 months. I’m sick most days. Idk what to do.

    • Serah, that’s really tough! Sorry for the tough times in the altitude. Being low for that long is a lot to handle. What kind of adjustments have you made so far to try to prevent the lows?

  3. My second year Hiking with my Hubby as he Elk hunts, It takes us 3 days to get to Colorado from Indiana so I assumed we
    Gradually adjust to the altitude, but I thought after this Tri I would look up and see if anyone else experiences the low blood sugar symptoms. Not sure why last year I packed my glucose pills and carried in my back pack , and sure enough 30 minutes into the hike I would change. We camp at the bottom of the ranch which is 5,400 and where we hike is up to 8,400 . So for sure this year I packed my glucose pills and always had one in my vest ready . I did good with the pattern of taking one the moment I felt different. Keep in mind these are the simple glucose tablets you get in the diabetic section of a drugstore or Walmart .
    I did end the trip not the best, my husband got two elk and they were 3/4 up the ridge so I had to help him which meant for 5 hrs up down that location . 3 days later and of course we are on our way home I am finally leveling out.
    I am glad I looked this up to know it happens to other people – for sure I will be prepared again next year.

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