Sherpas are well known for their physical performance at extreme altitudes, yet they are reported to have blunted ventilatory responses to acute hypoxia and relative hypoventilation in chronic hypoxia. To examine this paradox, we studied ventilatory control in Sherpas in comparison to that in Westerners at both low and high altitude. At low altitude, 25 Sherpas had higher minute ventilation, higher respiratory frequency, and lower end-tidal carbon dioxide tension than 25 Westerners. The hypoxic ventilatory response of Sherpas was found to be similar to that in Westerners, even though long altitude exposure had blunted the responses of some Sherpas. At high altitude, Sherpas again had higher minute ventilation and a tendency toward higher arterial oxygen saturation than Westerners. Oxygen administration increased ventilation further in Sherpas but decreased ventilation in Westerners. We conclude that Sherpas differ from other high-altitude natives; their hypoxic ventilatory response is not blunted, and they exhibit relative hyperventilation.
- Copyright © 1980 the American Physiological Society