A recent article in the New York Times warns potential Everest climbers to think again about the ascent, citing an Italian study published in the European Journal of Neurology that shows that "high-altitude climbing causes a subtle loss of brain cells and motor function."
The study compared the brains of seasoned climbers (who had at least 10 years of experience) to those of healthy, lower-elevation lovers of the same age and gender.
According to the article:
On scans, the climbers showed a reduction in both white and gray matter in various parts of the brain. Overall, the researchers found that the cognitive abilities that were most likely to be affected were the climbers’ executive function and memory.
Six of the nine climbers had lower than average scores on the Digit Symbol test, which measures executive functions. Three out of nine scored lower than average on memory tests, while four scored below average on a visual-motor function test. The study authors noted that the results "are most likely to be due to progressive, subtle brain insults caused by repeated high-altitude exposure."
I need all the white and gray matter I can get, so no climbing for me.