Humans at work and play in high altitude environments

A Review of Mountain Effects on People and Our Impact on the Ecosystem

Mountain Research Has Implications for Heart and Lung Disease

Whether at work or play, when people ascend from low altitudes to high mountains, they find it more difficult to think, work and sleep. Although some symptoms are reduced with time, others never disappear.

Researchers know that the main factor limiting human performance at high altitude is hypoxia, a decrease in the amount of oxygen reaching body tissues. Current high altitude studies into the genetic cause and medical progression of hypoxia may provide answers for people at sea-level who experience hypoxia as a major consequence of lung and heart disease or sleep disorders, as well as for individuals who play or work at high altitudes.

On Feb. 18, during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, researchers from the United States and Canada discussed the effect of high altitude mountain environments on humans. In addition, they touched on the ways in which humans affect mountain ecosystems.

The program was organized by Frank Powell, Ph.D., professor of physiology, University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, who noted that millions of people pursue recreation at altitudes over 8,000 feet above sea level and nearly 140 million people worldwide live and work above this altitude.

At 13,000 feet, atmospheric oxygen is only 60% of the sea level value. Blood oxygen levels in healthy people are similar to those in patients with lung disease who require supplemental oxygen at sea level, he said. In the hope of reversing these effects, we need a better understanding of what happens to your body.

Powell is director of the University of Californias White Mountain Research Station, with laboratories up to 14,000 feet above sea level, just east of the Sierra Nevada mountai

Contact: Sue Pondrom
University of California - San Diego

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