Bioscience researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota are taking a trip all the way to Mt. Everest to study the effects of high altitude on the bodies of climbers.
Although this study at first appears to be focusing on a very small segment of the population, extreme mountain climbers, this is not the case. The conditions on Mt. Everest affects the bodies of climbers in similar way that obesity, heart disease, and old age affect patients and may allow researchers to increase our understanding of these conditions.
(Mt. Everest seen from Kalapatthar, Wikimedia Commons)
Mt. Everest is an excellent natural laboratory for studying everything from lung issues and heart disease, to sleeping disorders and muscle loss. In fact, it is one of the best places for conducting bioscience research in these areas.
Bruce Johnson, leader of the expedition Mayo Clinic researcher and physiologist said it is possible to "simulate some conditions in oxygen tents and hyperbaric chambers, but only for short periods." He said that the conditions on Mt. Everest will be particularly useful for the study of heart disease because, "the effects of extreme altitude on healthy, active individuals....mimics aspects of heart disease.”
The expedition to Mt. Everest will provide a unique opportunity to study these three issues associated with heart disease:
Muscle loss, has been seen to occur in many high altitude climbers. This condition is characterized by weight loss and muscle wasting regardless of food intake and is often experienced by patients diagnosed with chronic diseases such as heart disease. This process may be related to more serious hypoxia during the night. To test this hypothesis the researchers will monitor sleep quality, calories, body composition and sleep hypoxia.
Pulmonary edema, a buildup of fluid in the lungs, is common in heart disease patients and is sometimes experienced by high altitude climbers. The research team will study gas transfers across the lungs, pressures in the lungs, and other factors to better understand this condition.
Sleep apnea, a sleep condition characterized by breathing problems and frequent awakenings during sleep, is common in both high altitude climbers and patients suffering from heart disease or obesity. The Mayo clinic researchers will be studying the oxygen levels and sleep patterns of the climbers to gain insights into these conditions.
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