Looking for the secret to a healthier life? According to a recent study, it might be time to ditch the city and head to the mountains. Two million people living at elevations over 4,500 meters appear to have lower rates of metabolic diseases like coronary heart disease and diabetes. While daily mountain hikes could certainly contribute to good health, researchers now believe the key is low oxygen levels caused by high elevation living. This animal study could help find new ways to treat metabolic diseases by exploring the connection between oxygen levels and health.
Our bodies can adapt to a shortage of oxygen, also known as hypoxia. When exposed to low oxygen levels, different organs in our body switch up their energy sources and production pathways to keep us going. This fascinating finding could lead to identifying metabolic receptors that benefit us even in regular oxygen environments. Imagine being able to optimize our metabolism for maximum energy efficiency in any situation. But this adaptation only occurs for people living higher than 4,500 meters, where oxygen levels are only 11% compared to the 21% at sea level.
The researchers explored the effects of long-term hypoxia on the body. By examining the metabolic shifts that occur during adaptation to low oxygen levels, the scientists sought to gain insights into how hypoxia could protect against metabolic diseases. They put adult mice in pressure chambers with varying oxygen levels and monitored their temperature, carbon dioxide, behavior and blood sugar levels for three weeks. Using PET scans, they also tracked nutrient consumption in different organs.
After a few days adjusting to a new pressure chamber, the mice started to display some strange behavior. They were less active and at various times stayed completely still for hours. But, after the third week, things were back to normal. One interesting discovery was the effect of hypoxia on carbon dioxide levels in the blood. The mice breathed at a faster rate for more oxygen, which decreased CO2 levels initially, but this eventually assumed a normal rate. However, one change appeared to stick. The mice’s metabolism seemed to be permanently altered by the hypoxic conditions, with weight and lower blood sugar levels never returning to pre-hypoxia levels. This long-term impact is similar to what doctors notice in people that live at higher elevations.
PET scans revealed interesting changes in the metabolism of the mice in hypoxic conditions. While it was expected for glucose metabolism to increase, the study found that skeletal muscles and brown fat actually reduced their use of sugar. This challenges the assumption that the whole body is more efficient at using oxygen in this environment. Instead, certain organs become glucose savers while others consume more glucose. This suggests that there may be a promising connection between the drop in body weight and glucose levels seen in hypoxic mice and a reduced risk of various diseases such as heart disease.
This study sheds light on the remarkable ability of the body to adapt to low oxygen levels and could have important implications for understanding and treating metabolic diseases. It could lead to a better understanding and treatment of diseases related to oxygen deficiency and information on the potential effects of chronic hypoxia implications for human health.
To view the original scientific study click below:
Organ-specific fuel rewiring in acute and chronic hypoxia redistributes glucose and fatty acid metabolism