LONDON: Living in high altitude regions can limit bone growth, causing people have shorter limbs, say scientists who conducted a study in Himalayan populations. High altitude is a particularly challenging environment – the terrain is physically challenging and the land has a relatively poor crop yield, so food can be sparse.Most importantly, oxygen levels are lower meaning that conversion of food into energy in an individual’s body is not very efficient and leads to relatively limited energy available for growth. In a study published, in the journal Royal Society Open Science, scientists examine how high altitude and the associated limited available energy affects the growth of long bones. By measuring the limbs of people of similar ancestry from high altitude and low altitude regions, the team found that those living at high altitude had significantly shorter lower arm segments.However, compared to people living at low altitude, the length of the upper arm and hand were relatively the same. “Our findings are really interesting as they show that the human body prioritises which segments to grow when there is limited energy available for growth, such as at high altitude,” said Stephanie Payne, at University of Cambridge in the UK. “This comes at the expense of other segments, for example the lower arm. The body may prioritise full growth of the hand because it is essential for manual dexterity, whilst the length of the upper arm is particularly important for strength, Payne said. “We’re really grateful to the Himalayan Sherpa populations who participated in the study. We measured and examined over 250 individuals and then compared our findings to genetically similar Tibetan groups living in the lowlands of Nepal,” she added.
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