How Everest’s ‘Superhuman’ Sherpas Overcome Hypoxia

May 25, 2017

The physiology of Himalayan Sherpas has evolved over thousands of years to help them become virtually superhuman mountain climbers, nimbly guiding and assisting others who seek to ascend the extreme heights of Mount Everest.

But what is it in their biology that enables them to overcome the hypoxia(oxygen deficiency) and altitude sickness that plague so many who visit the famous peak? According to a new study, Sherpas are more efficient at using oxygen to power their bodies, giving them a natural advantage over ‘lowlanders’ who come from environments at sea level.

“Sherpas have spent thousands of years living at high altitudes, so it should be unsurprising that they have adapted to become more efficient at using oxygen and generating energy,” says physiologist Andrew Murray from the University of Cambridge in the UK.

“When those of us from lower-lying countries spend time at high altitude, our bodies adapt to some extent to become more ‘Sherpa-like’, but we are no match for their efficiency.”

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