Although the word Sherpa has be­come syn­ony­mous with porters and moun­tain guides, it also de­scribes mem­bers of a group of Hi­malayan moun­tain dwellers. Over the course of cen­turies their bod­ies have per­fectly adapted to life at very high al­ti­tudes. In the X

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Sher­pas have what’s known as the ACE gene vari­ant. This pre­vents them from be­ing af­flicted by al­ti­tude sick­ness, which is dreaded by moun­taineers. Their cells can make do with sig­nif­i­cantly less oxy­gen, and even in the case of low oxy­gen lev­els in the air, they can still pro­duce enough energy to sup­ply the Sher­pas’ bod­ies ef­fi­ciently.


Stud­ies have shown that the car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem of Sher­pas is well adapted to han­dling dif­fer­ences in al­ti­tude. In ad­di­tion, they have a rel­a­tively large tho­racic cav­ity in re­la­tion to their small stature as well as in­or­di­nately large lung vol­ume. This en­dows them with 30% more strength than the av­er­age per­son, al­low­ing them to carry up to 200 pounds.


The body of a Sherpa con­tains a par­tic­u­larly high level of ni­tric ox­ide— a gaseous sig­nal­ing mol­e­cule that en­sures blood ves­sels di­late so that es­sen­tial oxy­gen can quickly be trans­ported to cru­cial ar­eas such as the mus­cles, brain, and heart.

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