Body Composition and Endocrine Adaptations to High-Altitude Trekking in the Himalayas
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Long-term exposure to high altitude causes adaptive changes in several blood biochemical markers along with a marked body mass reduction involving both the lean and fat components. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of extended physical strain, due to extensive trekking at high altitude, on body composition, selected biomarkers in the blood, and the protective role of a high-protein diet in muscle dysfunction. We found that physical strain at high altitude caused a significant reduction in body mass and body fat, with a concomitant increase in the cross-sectional area of thigh muscles and an unchanged total lean body mass. Further, we found reductions in plasma leptin and homocysteine, while myoglobin, insulin, and C-reactive protein significantly increased. Creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase, and leptin normalized per body fat were unchanged. These findings demonstrate that high-altitude hypoxia, involving extended physical effort, has an impact on muscle function and body composition, facilitating sarcopenia and affecting body mass and fat distribution. It also activates pro-inflammatory metabolic pathways in response to muscular distress. These changes can be mitigated by a provision of a high-protein diet.
KeywordsAdaptation Blood biomarkers Body composition High altitude Hypoxia Inflammatory response Trekking
Our thanks go to all the porters and Sherpas, whose role was crucial to the success of this scientific project.
The authors declare no competing interests in relation to this article.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The study was approved by the Bioethics Committee of “G. D’Annunzio” University of Chieti-Pescara in Italy.
Written informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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