High altitude living: Genetic and environmental adaptation

German Ramirez, Polly A. Bittle, Raquel Rosen, Hamid Rabb, David Pineda

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


High altitude (HA) living produces physiological changes for adaptation to chronic hypobaric-hypoxemic conditions. Although much is known about these physiologic adaptations, no clear separation has been made regarding what is 'native' or 'genetic' adaptation and what is 'acquired.' In this review, we describe the genetic vs. acquired adaptation and only include studies performed in a population native to HA and not in an acclimatized population or trekkers. The changes encountered in animals and humans living at HA in terms of hematology, muscular, respiratory, cerebral, cardiovascular, hormonal, fluid and electrolytes and reproduction, strongly suggest that genetics play a very important role in HA adaptation. Unfortunately, the characteristic physiology of HA natives has not been systematically defined to established specific measurable parameters of adaptation in comparison to the acquired ambient adaptation of the non-native population. Once the parameters are established, we can compare non-native populations exposed to HA that must emulate the HA physiology for a definite adaptation to be present. With measurable parameters, especially in the management of fluids and electrolytes, we can define how long it will take for a sea level native to adapt to an HA altitude. Until these studies are performed, speculation will continue and no rational medical intervention can be offered to HA newcomers who may experience HA difficulties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-81
Number of pages9
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • High altitude
  • Physiological changes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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