Testing the Limits of Human Potential—A Conversation with Dr. Coyle

This is the first post in a three-part series of conversations with Dr. Michael Coyle, the Chief Science Officer at Celliant. Dr. Coyle is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Human Performance at the University of Indiana-Bloomington and an expert in cardiopulmonary physiology.

Dr. Michael Coyle focuses his research on the limits of human potential. One of Dr. Coyle’s early findings showed that when challenged by seemingly different environmental stresses—like a serious medical condition or a high-level performance—the body is both fragile and resilient. Dr. Coyle’s research aligns with Celliant’s mission to provide benefits to both high-performance athletes and those experiencing debilitating medical conditions. In a recent conversation with us, Dr. Coyle explained the science behind these extremes by drawing upon two main observations:

Observation #1: Athletes can achieve extremely high levels of performance despite low levels of oxygen saturation in their blood. 

“Earlier in my career, I researched elite athletes, some of whom were world record holders in their events, and would warm up at treadmill speeds that I could only dream of running.” Examining the saturation of oxygen (the amount of oxygen bound to hemoglobin) in these high-performing athletes lead to startling results:

“They were running so fast that the saturation of oxygen (the amount of oxygen bound to hemoglobin) in their blood would actually drop.” While a normal finger pulse oxymeter reveals saturation levels of 95 to 100%, over half of Dr. Coyle’s athletes saturation dropped to values well below 88%, a rate low enough to immediately send a patient to intensive care for fear of a pulmonary complications. Despite exercising at a level where oxygen saturations were so low, the athletes were able to continually perform at very high work rates. That’s one end of the spectrum.

Observation #2: Sufferers of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease can also perform at a maximal level despite registering low oxygen saturation levels in their blood.

At the other end of the spectrum, Dr. Coyle researched people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In this case, maximal exercise means something completely different than high-performing athletes, like a person leaving their chair and walking to the refrigerator to get a snack while oxygen is strapped to their nose. “When they perform this task, the amount of their hemoglobin saturation drops as well, just as with the athletes. With two completely different stressors we saw that the body actually responded completely in the same way. The body only has a few ways to manipulate the variables that are given to it from a cardiopulmonary standpoint.”

Finding: “Stress is stress”

Evaluating the two extremes, Dr. Coyle concluded that stress, in the work sense, produces the same reaction whether someone is capable of high performance or experiencing a debilitating condition. “As a young graduate student, I was naïve to not look at the environmental stresses incurred by someone in a disease state in the same light as those experienced by an athlete. On one hand you have the fragility of disease and on the other hand, you have the resilience of absolute fitness, but you still see the same symptoms at the extremes. To this day it still fascinates me to think about it.”

Dr. Coyle’s research aligns with the core of Celliant technology; solutions that serve a high-performance athlete can also serve a person suffering from a debilitating disease. At Celliant, we’ll continue to provide benefits for both through the development of its technology. We would love to hear your thoughts and your experiences on the subject of human potential!

– See more at: http://celliant.com/blog/celliant-blog/testing-the-limits-of-human-potential%e2%80%94a-conversation-with-dr-coyle/#sthash.z3vU5Y4v.dpuf