Anemia, Iron Supplementation and the Mountaineer

Published:  04/13/2018

Climbing Mt Rainier crossing an ice bridge

Maria Faires, RD Summit Climb Mt. Rainier

If you are a mountain climber going to high altitudes, consider having a blood test to check for iron-deficiency anemia. One of the tests to include is one to determine ferritin levels. Ferritin is a protein that stores your iron for later use.

A higher level of ferritin is likely needed to make red blood cells at altitude. (1)

The body needs iron to produce red blood cells and does so with a process called erythropoiesis. Red blood cells store and carry oxygen through the body to our tissue and muscles, so the more red blood cells a climber has the more oxygen they have in their working muscles.

Iron-deficiency anemia causes a lowered red blood cell count, so people with anemia are more likely to suffer from altitude sickness and fatigue than are persons with normal blood counts. Patients with anemia can expect to have reduced exercise capacity at altitude.

People who are diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia will definitely want to consider taking an iron supplement before and during travel to high altitudes. And even those with normal levels may want to supplement with iron short-term.

Excessive amounts of Iron in the body can be harmful so if you are a mountaineer and are considering taking an iron supplement do not take an excessive amount and check with your doctor and/or for advice on the right dose for you.


(1) Pre-Altitude Serum Ferritin Levels and Daily Oral Iron Supplement Dose Mediate Iron Parameter and Hemoglobin Mass Responses to Altitude Exposure

Iron insufficiency diminishes the erythropoietic response to moderate altitude exposure

Does Iron Supplementation Improve Performance in Iron-Deficient Nonanemic Athletes?,continue%20this%20during%20the%20trip

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