Mount Everest study shows how some people get type 2 diabetes

Mon, 12 May 2014
A team of British researchers have provided further insight into the development of type 2 diabetes following a unique study conducted on Mount Everest the world's tallest mountain.

The research designed to test the effects of different oxygen levels in the body, uncovered a potential association between low oxygen levels (hypoxia) and insulin resistance, a major known risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

For the study, 24 individuals, including scientists from the University of Southampton and University College London, travelled to Mount Everest Base Camp at 17,388 feet in 2007 for monitoring of blood glucose, body weight, and signs of inflammation.

Half of the volunteers stayed at Base Camp while the other half continued their ascent to the summit. After six and eight weeks, measurements were taken again of each group.

The researchers found that when the climbers reached higher altitudes, they were exposed to hypoxia. They also showed signs of insulin resistance, which develops when cells fail to respond to the body's own insulin.

At the end of the study period, the researchers reported that several insulin resistance markers were increased following long-term exposure to hypoxia at high altitude.

"These results have given us useful insight into the clinical problem of insulin resistance," said Mike Grocott, a professor of anaesthesia and critical care at the University of Southampton.

"Fat tissue in obese people is believed to exist in a chronic state of mild hypoxia because the small blood vessels are unable to supply sufficient oxygen to fat tissue.

"Our study was unique in that it enabled us to see things in healthy people at altitude that which we might normally only see in obese people at sea level. The results suggest possible treatments to reduce progression towards full-blown diabetes, including measures to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation within the body."

The results were recently published in the journal PLOS One.
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