Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that Sherpas, the native Nepalese people known for climbing mountains like Mt Everest, are able to more efficiently produce energy in low-oxygen environments, a fact that could someday improve treatment of hypoxic patients.
The researchers from the University of Cambridge compared the metabolic differences between lowlanders and Sherpas. They found that the Sherpas’ mitochondria more efficiently used oxygen and produced ATP, the energy used to power our cells. They also found that the Sherpas displayed lower levels of fat oxidation, which again implied that their bodies were more efficient at producing energy.
One of the key findings was that Sherpas’ phosphocreatine levels also increased with time, while in the lowlanders it plummeted after two months. Phosphocreatine is an energy reserve that helps the muscles contract when ATP is absent. To add to the Sherpas already impressive physiology, their free radicals remained low, which is good news as they can damage cells and tissue.