Monday 9 November 2015

How Does Sherpas Survive Living In Thin Air?

Who is Sherpa?
Sherpa is a tribe living in the mountainous area in Himalayan region, Nepal. They are concentrated in Solukhumbu region which is located at 3,440m above sea level. They are known for their remarkable adaptation to high altitude, rarely affected by acute or chronic mountain sicknesses. Their exceptional adaptation also gets them prowess in mountaineering and hiking porter.

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What makes them super special than the rest of us here on 56m above sea level in Kuala Lumpur?
At 2,400m above sea level – normal human will suffer acute mountain sickness [symptoms: rapid pulse, nausea or vomiting]
At 2,500m above sea level – normal human will suffer from high altitude pulmonary edema [symptoms: dyspnea, rapid shallow breathing]
At 4,000m above sea level – intolerable to 40% less ATM environment. A normal human will suffer from high altitude cerebral edema [symptoms: altered mental state, retinal venous dilation]
And them? They reside at the altitude of 3,440m above sea level.

But how is that possible?
They succeeded the EPAS1 gene [high altitude living] from archaic Denisovan people from 40,000 years ago, which regulates the body’s production of hemoglobin.
They have low hemoglobin concentration, the scientist thinks this trait helps them avoid clots and strokes caused when the blood thickens with more hemoglobin-laden red blood cells.

They have more elaborated blood vessels hence this helps to transport smaller amount of oxygen efficiently.
As a conclusion, these super athletic humans can carry out normal life at 3,440m above sea level which could easily be fatal for us normal human being.

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Dyspnea         : difficulty in breathing at rest
Mountaineering         : mixture of snow climbing, ice or rock climbing & glacier travel
Hemoglobin : protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen

1. Genetic contribution of the endothelial nitric oxide synthase gene to high altitude adaptation in Sherpas (High Altitude Medicine & Biology, February 2006)
2. http://news
3. Medline Plus -

Shared by Hani Nordin

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