Augmented hyperventilation via normoxic helium breathing does not prevent exercise-induced hypoxemia

Can J Appl Physiol. 1996 Aug;21(4):264-70. doi: 10.1139/h96-023.


The purpose of this study was to determine if augmented hyperventilation produced via normoxic helium breathing would reduce exercise-induced hypoxemia (EIH). Seven highly trained endurance athletes with a mean maximum oxygen uptake of 65, performed two cycle ergometer tests to volitional exhaustion. During one of the tests the subjects breathed ambient air, while during the other they breathed normoxic helium (21% O2, 79% He). Mean maximum expired ventilation significantly (p < .05) increased from 139 L.min-1 during the ambient trial to 168 L.min-1 while breathing normoxic helium. Mean arterial oxygen saturation obtained at maximum exercise, however, was not significantly different for the two trials (ambient = 90%, helium = 89%). These results suggest that significantly augmenting exercise hyperventilation by 21% essentially had no effect on EIH in endurance athletes. Thus, the data do not support the hypothesis that inadequate hyperventilation is an important mechanism for arterial oxygen desaturation during graded exercise to exhaustion in highly trained individuals.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise Tolerance
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Helium / administration & dosage
  • Helium / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperventilation / physiopathology*
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Hypoxia / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Maximal Expiratory Flow-Volume Curves / drug effects
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Endurance
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange
  • Respiration / physiology*


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Helium
  • Oxygen