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Evaluation of sympathoadrenal activity adrenocortical function and androgenic status in five men during a Himalayan mountaineering expedition (ascent of Mt Pabil, 7,102 m, 23,294 ft)

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Sympathoadrenal activity, adrenocortical function and androgenic status were studied in five well-trained mountaineers during the different phases of a mountaineering expedition during the ascent of Mt Pabil (7,102 m) in the Ganesh Himal massif. Sympathoadrenal activity was evaluated by measuring urinary excretion of adrenaline, noradrenaline, metanephrines, and vanillinmandelic acid. Adrenocortical function was assessed by measuring urinary excretion of free cortisol, 17 OHCS (17-hydroxycorticosteroids) and androgenic status by measuring testosterone glucuronide, Adiol (5α-androstane-3α, 17Β diol) and 17KS (17-ketosteroids).

Reference values were obtained at Chamonix at 1,037 m during rest. During trekking noradrenaline increased significantly while Adiol and 17-KS decreased. The fall in the urinary androgenic pool persisted during the next phases of the expedition. At base camp (4,800 m) noradrenaline, its metabolites and free cortisol increased mainly during physical activity. Above 6,000 m, adrenaline, noradrenaline, their metabolites, free cortisol and 17-OHCS reached a maximum value. During the return to sea level, the urinary level of these parameters was still high.

The drop in the urinary androgenic pool observed during trekking and exposure to high altitude confirms results obtained in other studies on prolonged efforts. This hypoandrogenicity may play an important role in the metabolic adaptations as well as in the mental state of the climbers. The increase of sympathoadrenal activity and of adrenocortical function may be considered as a regulatory element in the adaptative response to hypoxia and other stressors proper to high altitude.

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Correspondence to J. Klepping.

Additional information

This work was supported in part by a grant from the Direction des Recherches, Etudes et Techniques des Armées (Contract 80.1114)

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Guilland, J.C., Moreau, D., Malval, M. et al. Evaluation of sympathoadrenal activity adrenocortical function and androgenic status in five men during a Himalayan mountaineering expedition (ascent of Mt Pabil, 7,102 m, 23,294 ft). Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 52, 156–162 (1984).

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Key words

  • High altitude
  • Stress
  • Testosterone
  • Catecholamines
  • Adrenal cortex hormones