JOURNAL ARTICLE

The effects of breathing a helium-oxygen gas mixture on maximal pulmonary ventilation and maximal oxygen consumption during exercise in acute moderate hypobaric hypoxia

Takeshi Ogawa, Jose A L Calbet, Yasushi Honda, Naoto Fujii, Takeshi Nishiyasu
European Journal of Applied Physiology 2010, 110 (4): 853-61
20623231
To test the hypothesis that maximal exercise pulmonary ventilation (VE max) is a limiting factor affecting maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) in moderate hypobaric hypoxia (H), we examined the effect of breathing a helium-oxygen gas mixture (He-O(2); 20.9% O(2)), which would reduce air density and would be expected to increase VE max. Fourteen healthy young male subjects performed incremental treadmill running tests to exhaustion in normobaric normoxia (N; sea level) and in H (atmospheric pressure equivalent to 2,500 m above sea level). These exercise tests were carried out under three conditions [H with He-O(2), H with normal air and N] in random order. VO2 max and arterial oxy-hemoglobin saturation (SaO(2)) were, respectively, 15.2, 7.5 and 4.0% higher (all p < 0.05) with He-O(2) than with normal air (VE max, 171.9 ± 16.1 vs. 150.1 ± 16.9 L/min; VO2 max, 52.50 ± 9.13 vs. 48.72 ± 5.35 mL/kg/min; arterial oxyhemoglobin saturation (SaO(2)), 79 ± 3 vs. 76 ± 3%). There was a linear relationship between the increment in VE max and the increment in VO2 max in H (r = 0.77; p < 0.05). When subjects were divided into two groups based on their VO2 max, both groups showed increased VE max and SaO(2) in H with He-O(2), but VO2 max was increased only in the high VO2 max group. These findings suggest that in acute moderate hypobaric hypoxia, air-flow resistance can be a limiting factor affecting VE max; consequently, VO2 max is limited in part by VE max especially in subjects with high VO2 max.

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