THE world’s highest mountain could help prevent people getting diabetes in the future.

A group of Southampton researchers were part of a trek on Mount Everest to gain new insights into the process of how some people get type 2 diabetes.

The research was led by the University of Southampton and University College London (UCL) and assessed how low oxygen levels in the body – known as hypoxia – is associated with the development of insulin resistance.

The group discovered several markers of insulin resistance increased following sustained exposure to hypoxia at high altitude, and this change was related to increased blood levels of markers of inflammation and oxidative stress.

A total of 24 people underwent assessments of glucose control, body weight changes, and inflammation biomarkers at Everest Base Camp at an altitude of 5,300m.

Half of the group climbed the mountain to a maximum of 8,848m and measurements were taken of each group at week six and week eight of the trek.

The study was led by Mike Grocott, professor of anaesthesia and critical care at the University of Southampton.

He said: “Fat tissue in obese people is believed to exist in a chronic state of mild hypoxia because the small blood vessels are unable to supply sufficient oxygen to fat tissue.

“Our study was unique in that it enabled us to see things in healthy people at altitude that which we might normally only see in obese people at sea level. The results suggest possible interventions to reduce progression towards full-blown diabetes, including measures to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation within the body.”

Dr Daniel Martin, senior lecturer and honorary consultant at UCL, said: “These exciting results give us a unique insight into the possible mechanism of insulin resistance in diabetes and provide some clues as to where we should be thinking about focusing further research on novel treatments for this disease.

“It also demonstrates the value of using healthy volunteers in studies carried out at high altitude to patients at sea level.

“Our high altitude experimental model for investigating everyday illnesses that involve tissue hypoxia is a fantastic way to test hypotheses that would otherwise be very difficult to explore.”