Science and Tech


How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

British researchers were able to use Mount Everest's low altitudes to study insulin resistance. They hope to find ways to treat diabetes.
Posted at 2:07 PM, Apr 15, 2014

British scientists have gained new insight into Type 2 diabetes by traveling to an unusual location — high atop Mount Everest.

According to a study published Monday in the journal PLOS One, researchers found long-term exposure to hypoxia — or low oxygen levels in the body — is linked to increased indicators of insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes.

Insulin resistance occurs when cells in the body don't respond to the hormone responsible for regulating sugar levels. This could lead to too much sugar in the blood, which could lead to Type 2 diabetes. (Via Medicom Health Interactive)

The data for the study was collected as part of a trek led by researchers, doctors and nurses who wanted to study how decreased oxygen levels affect bodily functions at extreme altitudes. (Via The Guardian)

The team chose to go to Mount Everest because the high-altitude conditions simulated the critical conditions of ill patients who often suffer from hypoxia at normal altitudes. (Via National Geographic)

The researchers say hypoxia is a common problem affecting patients in intensive care units in the United Kingdom and this research could help improve survival rates.

According HealthDay, such levels of hypoxia observed in healthy people atop the mountain are normally seen in obese people at sea level. But the researchers say it's often impossible to study those patients because they are so ill.

A doctor involved with the study told Science Daily the research "demonstrates the value of using healthy volunteers in studies carried out at high altitude to patients at sea level. [It] is a fantastic way to test hypotheses that would otherwise be very difficult to explore."

According to Medical News Today, the researchers believe the results of the study could lead to the development of treatments for reducing the progression of diabetes indicators and possibly prevent the disease altogether.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 million Americans have diabetes, and about 90 percent of them have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.