Researchers find link between altitude of living spaces, metabolic syndrome

Living in the mountains could be good for the heart, according to a new study that suggests the higher altitude someone lives in, the less likely they are to develop metabolic syndrome.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, was led by Amaya López-Pascual, a PhD student at the University of Navarra in Spain. Her research is the first to examine the link between living at high altitude and the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Currently, 34 percent of the U.S. population suffers from metabolic syndrome.

"Unfortunately, metabolic syndrome is very common and increasing worldwide,” López-Pascual said in a statement. “Our research will help us to understand what factors contribute to its development.”

Prior studies have suggested people living at higher altitudes have significantly fewer heart problems. To dig deeper, López-Pascual and her team analyzed data from the Spanish SUN project, a program in which participants have been submitting information about their health twice a year since 1999.

Results showed that the higher the altitude, the less likely it was for participants to develop metabolic syndrome. People living between 457 and 2,297 meters above sea level had a lower risk of developing high blood pressure and cholesterol levels than those living at sea level, categorized as 0 to 121 meters, the study showed.

"Living or training at high altitudes or under a simulated hypoxic environment seems to help with heart and lung function, losing weight and improves insulin sensitivity," said Pedro González-Muniesa, an author on the study and associate professor at the University of Navarra, in a statement.

Limitations of the study included the fact that the data was self-reported from patients, which can sometimes be incorrect. Additionally, they lacked information about the climates in which participants were living.

"We assumed participants remained living at the same altitude and at present, we do not know the influence that humidity, temperature, climate and pollution may have at various levels of altitude,” López-Pascual said. “However, we do know the participants were recruited from a range of locations at all altitudes, so any effects from being in a city or countryside were spread over all the participants we studied.”