Living at a Geographically Higher Elevation Is Associated with Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome Interview with:
“The Mountains of Spain” by Nan Palmero is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Pedro González Muniesa 
Director of International Relations of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
Universidad de Navarra
Nutrition Research Center / Dpt. Nutrition, Food Science and Physiology
School of Pharmacy / University of Navarra What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Several other studies have reported lower incidence rates of conditions linked to MetS such as obesity (Díaz-Gutiérrez et al.,2016; Voss et al., 2013; Woolcott et al., 2014), heart disease (Ezzati et al., 2012; Faeh et al., 2016), hypertension (Norboo et al., 2015) or type 2 diabetes (Woolcott et al., 2014) on subjects living at high altitudes.

To our knowledge this is the first study that has found a protective effect on living at a higher altitude against metabolic syndrome, and it is one of the very few that has found this effect at a median altitude of less than 600 meters. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Living at an altitude between 457-2,297 m compared to sea level (0-121 m) was associated with a lower risk (25% less) of developing Metabolic Syndrome (MetS).

This cluster of diseases is the medical term for the combination of low blood levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high triglyceride and high glucose, hypertension, as well as excess body fat around the waist, and contributes to health problems such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately is a very prevalent pathological condition (more than 30% in countries such as the USA and Spain), which is increasing in most of the developed countries and also in transition ones. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We consider that the reduced oxygen availability as we ascend from sea level altitude might explain this lower weight gain (Díaz-Gutiérrez et al.,2016) and the lower risk for developing metabolic syndrome found in our study. As it has been shown in other manuscripts (Urdampilleta et al, 2012), hypoxia or altitude living/training improves insulin sensitivity, cardiopulmonary health and weight loss, due to the extra effort and adaptations that our body has to suffer to obtain the adequate quantity of oxygen for vital activities. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: We are researchers of the Centre for Nutrition Research of the University of Navarra and we also belong to the consortium CIBERobn Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Lopez-Pascual A, Bes-Rastrollo M, Sayón-Orea C, et al. Living at a Geographically Higher Elevation Is Associated with Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome: Prospective Analysis of the SUN Cohort. Frontiers in Physiology. 2016;7:658. doi:10.3389/fphys.2016.00658. as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on February 15, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD