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Operation Everest. II: Nutrition And Body Composition

M. S. Rose, C. S. Houston, C. S. Fulco, G. Coates, J. R. Sutton, A. Cymerman

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Progressive body weight loss occurs during high mountain expeditions, but whether it is due to hypoxia, inadequate diet, malabsorption, or the multiple stresses of the harsh environment is unknown. To determine whether hypoxia due to decompression causes weight loss, six men, provided with a palatable ad libitum diet, were studied during progressive decompression to 240 Torr over 40 days in a hypobaric chamber where hypoxia was the major environmental variable. Caloric intake decreased 43.0% from 3,136 to 1,789 kcal/day (P less than 0.001). The percent carbohydrate in the diet decreased from 62.1 to 53.2% (P less than 0.001). Over the 40 days of the study the subjects lost 7.4 +/- 2.2 (SD) kg and 1.6% (2.5 kg) of the total body weight as fat. Computerized tomographic scans indicated that most of the weight loss was derived from fat-free weight. The data indicated that prolonged exposure to the increasing hypoxia was associated with a reduction in carbohydrate preference and body weight despite access to ample varieties and quantities of food. This study suggested that hypoxia can be sufficient cause for the weight loss and decreased food consumption reported by mountain expeditions at high altitude.