When you are planning a trip to mount Everest, you will most likely be advised to seek the help of some natives that will help you with the ascent and that know the mountain way better than anyone possibly could. These mountaineers are called Sherpas and they have been escalating the highest mountain in the world for thousands of years. This long history and its concording extended lineage of people who have all followed the same professional path lead to some very interesting phenomenon. Sherpas have evolved in a slightly different way than the rest of us and have developed some very useful perks that make them today’s superhuman climbers.
The main problem with climbing extremely high mountains is that oxygen starts becoming more rare the higher you get. This is what is scientifically called Oxygen Deficiency or Hypoxia. The condition tends to make you more tired, reduce your expandable energy and lower your focus and adaptability. But a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge in the UK have taken to studying this phenomenon in the metabolism of mountain people, a.k.a Sherpas.
In the course of the experiment, 10 European researchers were put against 15 Sherpa natives in an ascent to Everest base camp situated at 5,300m of altitude. The blood level and muscle biopsies were collected before the climb started for the purpose of having a baseline for what they were calculating.
Once the two groups arrived at their destination, the measurements of both groups were taken again and the results were finally available. The team found that Sherpas had predisposition to being extremely adaptable to high altitudes. This was shown through mitochondrias that were much more efficient at transferring energy between body cells than the mitochondrias of regular climbers. They also found out that Sherpas generated more energy from sugars than from fat, which is the least efficient of the two.
And the team didn’t even have to wait for the climb to notice that, as this efficiency was already there at the start of the expedition. The sherpas numbers didn’t change throughout the trip whereas those of the lowlanders most definitely did as they were expected to.