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Why Weight Loss Is Easier at High Altitude

Research suggests that high altitudes suppress appetite and increase metabolism.
February 4, 2010

Want to drop a few pounds on your next vacation? Head for the mountains, the taller the better.

Researchers from Germany studied 20 obese men both at low altitude in Munich and while spending a week at 8700 feet, in a field station near the peak of Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze. Participants lost an average of two pounds that week and kept it off for the next month, without making any changes in diet or activity levels. During their high altitude stay, the men were given unrestricted access to food and restricted to short walks.

The researchers found that basal metabolism increased at high altitude, though it’s not clear why. Levels of leptin, a hormone known to suppress hunger, also increased, perhaps in response to decreased oxygen. Participants ate less, even after symptoms of altitude sickness had disappeared. And they continued to eat less after returning to Munich, at least during the four week follow-up period of the study. The research was published this month in the journal Obesity.

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