Ascent to altitude as a weight loss method: The good and bad of hypoxia inducible factor activation

Biff F. Palmer, Deborah J. Clegg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Objective Given the epidemic of obesity worldwide there is a need for more novel and effective weight loss methods. Altitude is well known to be associated with weight loss and has actually been used as a method of weight reduction in obese subjects. This review demonstrates the critical role of hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) in bringing about reductions in appetite and increases in energy expenditure characteristic of hypobaric hypoxia Design and Methods A MEDLINE search of English language articles through February 2013 identified publications associating altitude or hypobaric hypoxia with key words to include HIF, weight loss, appetite, basal metabolic rate, leptin, cellular energetics, and obesity. The data from these articles were synthesized to formulate a unique and novel mechanism by which HIF activation leads to alterations in appetite, basal metabolic rate, and reductions in body adiposity. Results A synthesis of previously published literature revealed mechanisms by which altitude induces activation of HIF, thereby suggesting this transcription factor regulates changes in cellular metabolism/energetics, activation of the central nervous system, as well as peripheral pathways leading to reductions in food intake and increases in energy expenditure. Conclusions Here a unifying hypothesis is present suggesting that activation of HIF under conditions of altitude potentially leads to metabolic benefits that are dose dependent, gender and genetic specific, and results in adverse effects if the exposure is extreme.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-317
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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