How Tibetans Survive With Low Oxygen At High Altitude

How Tibetans Survive With Low Oxygen At High Altitude.

Our physiology, particularly for those of us who live at sea-level, are not able to suddenly adapt to high altitude living, without damaging our body. This article explains how the Tibetans and Peruvian highlanders manage as a result of genomic changes over the generations. What is considered high altitude? It is between 5,000 and 11,500 feet (1,524 and 3,505.2 m) above sea level. Very high altitude is between 11,500 and 18,000 feet (5,486.4 m), and extreme altitude is anything above 18,000 feet. The percentage of oxygen in the air at sea level is the same at high altitudes — roughly 21 percent. But because the air molecules are more dispersed, each breath delivers less oxygen to the body. When you take a breath at 12,000 feet (3,657.6 m), you are breathing in 40 percent less oxygen than at sea level. The low humidity and low air pressure also causes moisture from our skin and lungs to evaporate at a faster pace — and our body’s increased exertion requires even more water to keep it hydrated. When our body looses fluid through its blood vessels, it tries to counteract the effect by holding water and sodium in its kidneys. As a result, even more fluid builds up in the body — and more trickles out of the blood vessels. This fluid can get into body tissue and cause edema (swelling of the face, legs and feet). Furthermore, as our sleeping body attempts to strike some balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, it falls into periodic breathing. Periodic breathing is a cycle of decreased breathing, followed by a complete absence of breathing (from three to 15 seconds). Breathing resumes once carbon dioxide has sufficiently built up in our bloodstream to prompt our brain; it often leaves afflicted individuals feeling worn out on waking. These are just a few of the changes in our body at high altitude.

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