Effect of high altitude on protein metabolism in Bolivian children

José Luis San Miguel Simbrón, Hilde Spielvogel, Jacques Berger, Mauricio Araoz, Carmen Lujan, Wilma Téllez, Esperanza Caceres, Pierre Gachon, Jean Coudert, Bernard Beaufrere

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3 Scopus citations


In Bolivia, malnutrition in children is a major health problem that may be caused by inadequate protein, energy, and micronutrient intake; exposure to bacterial and parasitic infections; and life in a multistress environment (high altitude, cold, cosmic radiation, low ambient humidity). However, no data on protein absorption and utilization at high altitude were available. Therefore, we evaluated the effect of altitude on protein metabolism in Bolivian children. We measured protein utilization using leucine labeled with a stable isotope (13C) in two groups of healthy pre-pubertal children matched for age. Group 1 (n = 10) was examined at high altitude (HA) in La Paz (3600 m), and group 2 (n = 10) at low altitude (LA) in Santa Cruz (420 m). The nutritional status did not differ between groups but, as was to be expected, the HA group had higher hemoglobin concentration than the LA group. The children consumed casein that was intrinsically labeled with L-(1-13C) leucine and expired 13CO2 was analyzed. Samples of expired air were measured by isotope ratio mass spectrometer in Clermont-Ferrand. It was found that cumulative leucine oxidation (13CO2) at 300 min after ingestion was 19.7 ± 4.9% at HA and 25.2 ± 3.2% at LA. These results showed that protein absorption and/or utilization is significantly affected by altitude.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-386
Number of pages10
JournalHigh Altitude Medicine and Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2002


  • Leucine oxidation
  • Protein turnover
  • Resting metabolic rate
  • Stable isotope


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