DoD High-Altitude Studies Seek Faster Acclimatization

Scientists from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine's Maher Memorial Altitude Laboratory have a unique task and locale for their work: They study volunteer soldiers' biological response to altitude at one of only two structures on the 14,110-foot summit of Pike's Peak. Their work was highlighted on the U.S. Defense Department's Web site this week in an article written by Sarah Maxwell of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

"The Army is very interested in any means to accelerate acclimatization," USAREIM research physiologist Dr. Allen Cymerman said in her article. "We're obligated to have our troops knowledgeable and experienced in how to handle their environments." The lab was built in the 1960s and has been used for research since then, but deployments to high-altitude areas of Afghanistan make the work there especially important now.

"We scoop [volunteers] up on helicopters, drop them off in the mountains, and they can become susceptible to problems," said USARIEM research physiologist Dr. Steve Muza. "Our goal is to understand how the lack of oxygen affects soldiers biologically and physiologically, and then take the information to mitigate or reduce them getting sick." Previous research at the lab brought about the only FDA-approved altitude sickness prevention medicine; nutrition and hydration effects research also has been useful. "For instance, we demonstrated that we can improve performance by 25 percent by eating more carbohydrates," said Muza. "We're now in the process of developing carbohydrates supplement packages." The volunteers are tested before and while taking part and are at minimal health risk, according to Maxwell's report.

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