European Journal of Nutrition

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 625–635 | Cite as

Disturbed eating at high altitude: influence of food preferences, acute mountain sickness and satiation hormones

  • Isabelle AeberliEmail author
  • Annina Erb
  • Kerstin Spliethoff
  • Daniela Meier
  • Oliver Götze
  • Heiko Frühauf
  • Mark Fox
  • Graham S. Finlayson
  • Max Gassmann
  • Kaspar Berneis
  • Marco Maggiorini
  • Wolfgang Langhans
  • Thomas A. Lutz
Original Contribution



Hypoxia has been shown to reduce energy intake and lead to weight loss, but the underlying mechanisms are unclear. The aim was therefore to assess changes in eating after rapid ascent to 4,559 m and to investigate to what extent hypoxia, acute mountain sickness (AMS), food preferences and satiation hormones influence eating behavior.


Participants (n = 23) were studied at near sea level (Zurich (ZH), 446 m) and on two days after rapid ascent to Capanna Margherita (MG) at 4,559 m (MG2 and MG4). Changes in appetite, food preferences and energy intake in an ad libitum meal were assessed. Plasma concentrations of cholecystokinin, peptide tyrosine–tyrosine, gastrin, glucagon and amylin were measured. Peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2) was monitored, and AMS assessed using the Lake Louis score.


Energy intake from the ad libitum meal was reduced on MG2 compared to ZH (643 ± 308 vs. 952 ± 458 kcal, p = 0.001), but was similar to ZH on MG4 (890 ± 298 kcal). Energy intake on all test days was correlated with hunger/satiety scores prior to the meal and AMS scores on MG2 but not with SpO2 on any of the 3 days. Liking for high-fat foods before a meal predicted subsequent energy intake on all days. None of the satiation hormones showed significant differences between the 3 days.


Reduced energy intake after rapid ascent to high altitude is associated with AMS severity. This effect was not directly associated with hypoxia or changes in gastrointestinal hormones. Other peripheral and central factors appear to reduce food intake at high altitude.


Hypoxia Dietary intake Food preferences High altitude Acute mountain sickness 



We would like to thank all the volunteers for their cooperation in this ambitious study. Further thanks go to Prof. Christoph Beglinger, University Hospital Basel and to Barbara Schneider, University Hospital Zurich for their support with sample analysis. This study was supported by two Cooperative Project Grants (coordinated by MM and TAL) by the Zurich Centre for Integrative Human Physiology, Zurich, Switzerland.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isabelle Aeberli
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Annina Erb
    • 2
  • Kerstin Spliethoff
    • 4
    • 5
  • Daniela Meier
    • 4
  • Oliver Götze
    • 5
    • 6
  • Heiko Frühauf
    • 6
  • Mark Fox
    • 5
    • 6
    • 7
  • Graham S. Finlayson
    • 8
  • Max Gassmann
    • 4
    • 5
    • 9
  • Kaspar Berneis
    • 1
    • 5
  • Marco Maggiorini
    • 5
    • 10
  • Wolfgang Langhans
    • 3
    • 5
  • Thomas A. Lutz
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical NutritionUniversity Hospital ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Human Nutrition LaboratoryETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Physiology and Behavior LaboratoryETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Institute of Veterinary PhysiologyVetsuisse Faculty University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  5. 5.Centre for Integrative Human PhysiologyZurichSwitzerland
  6. 6.Division of Gastroenterology and HepatologyUniversity Hospital ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  7. 7.NIHR Biomedical Research UnitNottingham Digestive Diseases CentreNottinghamUK
  8. 8.Biopsychology Group, Institute of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and HealthUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  9. 9.Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH)LimaPeru
  10. 10.Pulmonary DivisionUniversity Hospital ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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