Livin' on the MDedge

The air up there: Oxygen could be a bit overrated


Into thin, but healthy, air

Human civilization has essentially been built on proximity to water. Ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, China, and India were all intimately connected to either rivers or the ocean. Even today, with all our technology, about a third of Earth’s 8 billion people live within 100 vertical meters of sea level, and the median person lives at an elevation of just 200 meters.


All things considered, one might imagine life is pretty tough for the 2 million people living at an elevation of 4,500 meters (nearly 15,000 feet). Not too many Wal-Marts or McDonalds up there. Oh, and not much air either. And for most of us not named Spongebob, air is good.

Or is it? That’s the question posed by a new study. After all, the researchers said, people living at high altitudes, where the air has only 11% effective oxygen instead of the 21% we have at low altitude, have significantly lower rates of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and heart diseases. Maybe breathing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

To find out, the researchers placed a group of mice in environments with either 11% oxygen or 8% oxygen. This netted them a bunch of very tired mice. Hey, sudden altitude gain doesn’t go too well for us either, but after 3 weeks, all the mice in the hypoxic environments had regained their normal movement and were behaving as any mouse would.

While the critters seemed normal on the outside, a closer examination found the truth. Their metabolism had been permanently altered, and their blood sugar and weight went down and never bounced back up. Further examination through PET scans showed that the hypoxic mice’s organs showed an increase in glucose metabolism and that brown fat and skeletal muscles reduced the amount of sugar they used.

This goes against the prevailing assumption about hypoxic conditions, the researchers said, since it was previously theorized that the body simply burned more glucose in response to having less oxygen. And while that’s true, our organs also conspicuously use less glucose. Currently, many athletes use hypoxic environments to train, but these new data suggest that people with metabolic disorders also would see benefits from living in low-oxygen environments.

Do you know what this means? All we have to do to stop diabetes is take civilization and push it somewhere else. This can’t possibly end badly.

Sleep survey: The restless majority

Newsflash! This just in: Nobody is sleeping well.

When we go to bed, our goal is to get rest, right? Sorry America, but you’re falling short. In a recent survey conducted by OnePoll for Purple Mattress, almost two-thirds of the 2,011 participants considered themselves restless sleepers.

A sleepless woman in bed klebercordeiro/Getty Images

Not surprised. So what’s keeping us up?

Snoring partners (20%) and anxiety (26%) made the list, but the award for top complaint goes to body pain. Back pain was most prevalent, reported by 36% of respondents, followed by neck pain (33%) and shoulder pain (24%). No wonder, then, that only 10% of the group reported feeling well rested when they woke up.

Do you ever blame your tiredness on sleeping funny? Well, we all kind of sleep funny, and yet we’re still not sleeping well.

The largest proportion of people like to sleep on their side (48%), compared with 18% on their back and 17% on their stomach. The main reasons to choose certain positions were to ease soreness or sleep better, both at 28%. The largest share of participants (47%) reported sleeping in a “yearner” position, while 40% lay on their stomachs in the “free faller” position, and 39% reported using the “soldier” position.

Regardless of the method people use to get to sleep or the position they’re in, the goal is always the same. We’re all just trying to figure out what’s the right one for us.


Recommended Reading

Early retirement and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad cognitive decline
MDedge Internal Medicine
It’s all about the brains: Guilt placebos, transplants, and negative feelings
MDedge Internal Medicine
The longevity gene: Healthy mutant reverses heart aging
MDedge Internal Medicine
The long-range thrombolysis forecast calls for tiny ultrasonic tornadoes
MDedge Internal Medicine
Pound of flesh buys less prison time
MDedge Internal Medicine
Medicare ‘offers’ cancer patient a choice: Less life or more debt
MDedge Internal Medicine
A purple warrior rises in the battle against diabetes
MDedge Internal Medicine
Transplant surgeon to 30,000 marathoners: Give me that liver
MDedge Internal Medicine
We have seen the future of healthy muffins, and its name is Roselle
MDedge Internal Medicine
The human-looking robot therapist will coach your well-being now
MDedge Internal Medicine