Glucose homeostasis during short-term and prolonged exposure to high altitudes

Orison O Woolcott, Marilyn Ader, Richard N Bergman
Endocrine Reviews 2015, 36 (2): 149-73
Most of the literature related to high altitude medicine is devoted to the short-term effects of high-altitude exposure on human physiology. However, long-term effects of living at high altitudes may be more important in relation to human disease because more than 400 million people worldwide reside above 1500 m. Interestingly, individuals living at higher altitudes have a lower fasting glycemia and better glucose tolerance compared with those who live near sea level. There is also emerging evidence of the lower prevalence of both obesity and diabetes at higher altitudes. The mechanisms underlying improved glucose control at higher altitudes remain unclear. In this review, we present the most current evidence about glucose homeostasis in residents living above 1500 m and discuss possible mechanisms that could explain the lower fasting glycemia and lower prevalence of obesity and diabetes in this population. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate and maintain the lower fasting glycemia in individuals who live at higher altitudes could lead to new therapeutics for impaired glucose homeostasis.

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