The effects of breathing He-O2 mixtures on maximal oxygen consumption in normoxic and hypoxic men

F Esposito, G Ferretti
Journal of Physiology 1997 August 15, 503 ( Pt 1): 215-22
1. The hypothesis that the ventilatory resistance to O2 flow (RV) does limit maximal O2 consumption (VO2,max) in hypoxia, but not in normoxia, at least in non-athletic subjects, was tested. RV was reduced by using He-O2 mixtures. 2. VO2,max was measured during graded cyclo-ergometric exercise in eight men (aged 30 +/- 3 years) who breathed N2-O2 and He-O2 mixtures in normoxia (inspired oxygen fraction (FI,O2) = 0.21) and hypoxia (FI,O2 = 0.11). O2 consumption, expired and alveolar ventilations (VE and VA, respectively), blood lactate and haemoglobin concentrations, heart rate and arterial oxygen saturation (Sa,O2) were determined at the steady state of each work load. Arterial O2 and CO2 partial pressures (Pa,O2 and Pa,CO2, respectively) were measured at rest and at the end of the highest work load. 3. Maximal VE and VA were significantly increased by He-O2 breathing in normoxia (+27 and +18%, respectively), without significant changes in Pa,O2, Sa,O2 and VO2,max. In hypoxia, VE and VA increased (+31 and +24%, respectively), together with Pa,O2 (+17%), Sa,O2 (+6%) and VO2,max (+14%). 4. The results support the hypothesis that the role of RV in limiting VO2,max is negligible in normoxia. In hypoxia, the finding that higher VE and VA values during He-O2 breathing led to higher VO2,max values suggests a greater role of RV as a limiting factor. It is unclear whether the finding that the VO2,max values were the same during He-O2 and N2-O2 breathing in normoxia is due to a non-linear response of the O2 transfer system, as previously proposed.

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