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High Altitude Populations

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Anthropology 1027A/B
Andrew Nelson

Studies of high altitude residents have greatly contributed to our understanding of physiological adaptation Altitude studies have focused on inhabited mountainous regions particularly in the Himalayas Andes and Rocky Mountains Of these three areas permanent human habitation probably has the longest history in the HimalayasToday perhaps as many as 25 million people live at altitudes above 10000 feet In the Andes settlements can be found as high as 17000 feet Because the mechanisms that maintain homeostasis in humans evolved at lower altitudes were compromised by conditions at higher elevations At high altitudes many factors produce stress on the human body These include hypoxia which is a lack of oxygen and can refer to reduced amounts of available oxygen in the atmosphere due to lower barometric pressure or to insufficient amounts of oxygen in the body more intense solar radiation cold low humidity wind which increased cold stress a reduced nutritional base and rough terrain Of these hypoxia exerts the greatest stress on human physiological systems especially the heart lungs and brain It is not that there is less oxygen in the atmosphere at high altitudes its just less concentrated therefore to obtain the same amount of oxygen at 9000 feet as at sea level people must make certain physiological altercations that increase the bodys ability to transport and efficiently use the oxygen that is available At high altitudes reproduction in particular is affected through increased infant mortality rates miscarriage low birth weights and premature birth An early study Moore and Regensteiner 1983 reported that in Colorado infant deaths are almost twice more common above 8200 feet than at lower elevations One cause of fetal and maternal death is preeclampsia which is a severe elevation in blood pressure in pregnant thwomen after the 20 gestational week Another Colorado study reported that among women living at elevations of over 10000 feet the prevalence of preeclampsia was 16 compared to 3 at around 4000 feet In general the problems related to childbearing are attributed to issues that compromise the vascular supply and thus oxygen transport to the fetus People born at lower altitudes differ from high altitude nativ
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