High-altitude living may lower risk of heart disease, stroke

High-altitude living may lower risk of heart disease, stroke

 People living in high altitude areas are less likely to develop Metabolic Syndrome, a condition that may increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes or stroke, a new study has found.

Metabolic Syndrome is the combination of high blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as excess body fat around the waist, which contributes to serious health problems.

"We found that those people living between 457 to 2297 metres, had a lower risk of developing Metabolic Syndrome than those living at sea level (0 to 121 metres)," said Amaya Lopez-Pascual, from the University of Navarra in Spain.

"Unfortunately, Metabolic Syndrome is very common and increasing worldwide. Our research will help us to understand what factors contribute to its development," she said.

This new research is the first to assess the link between living at high altitudes and the risk to initially healthy people developing all the criteria that make up the Metabolic Syndrome.

While the reported increase in the Metabolic Syndrome is principally blamed on higher obesity rates, smoking and increasingly inactive lifestyles, less is known about the effect our environment may have on us.

Previous studies have suggested that people living at higher altitudes, where the body has to work harder to get the oxygen it needs, have noticeably fewer problems linked to the Metabolic Syndrome.

"Living or training at high altitudes or under a simulated hypoxic (oxygen deficient) environment seems to help with heart and lung function, losing weight, and improves insulin sensitivity," said Pedro Gonzalez-Muniesa, associate professor at the University of Navarra.

The researchers used data from the Spanish SUN project, where participants have been voluntarily submitting information about their health twice-yearly since 1999.
Information from thousands of initially healthy participants were used to study the development of Metabolic Syndrome in relation to the altitude of where they lived.

The results were quite clear - the higher the altitude, the less likely you were of developing Metabolic Syndrome, researchers said.

Interestingly, using information about the participants' family history, researchers could also assess if those more prone to this health problem also saw these benefits.
"We found our results were independent of the genetic background of the individuals," said Gonzalez-Muniesa.

The research may open up new avenues for understanding the health benefits of high altitude living.

"We need more studies to understand the mechanisms involved. In addition, we can start to look at the altitude at which we start to obtain benefits and where they stop and/or turn harmful,"     said Gonzalez-Muniesa. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

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