The first-of-its-kind study found that high-pressure oxygen rooms can not only stop, but even reverse two key processes associated with cellular aging.
Aging is characterized by the progressive loss of physiological capacity, the new study explains. At the cellular level, two key hallmarks of aging include telomere shortening and cellular senescence (the accumulation of old, malfunctioning cells). Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Shamir Medical Center in Israel wanted to see if this process could be stopped using hyperbaric oxygen chambers.
"Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) utilizes 100% oxygen in an environmental pressure higher than one absolute atmospheres (ATA) to enhance the amount of oxygen dissolved in body’s tissues," the study reads.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been a fad for a couple of decades already, being recommended by some for a myriad of afflictions -- but scientific evidence has been scarce at best. It's one of those things where the hype vastly outpaced the actual proof, up to the point where many such claims are usually misleading or outright false. But this new study appears to confirm a part of these alleged benefits.
The study looked at the two hallmarks: the shortening of telomeres (the ends of chromosomes, that tend to get shorter and shorter as we age), and the accumulation of senescent cells. Researchers were thrilled to discover a lengthening of the telomeres -- up to 38% -- and a decrease of senescent cells -- up to 37% -- in the patient's blood.
It was a small study (35 healthy individuals aged 64 or over). Participants underwent 60 hyperbaric sessions over a period of 90 days, providing blood samples before, after, and during the treatments. All participants were healthy.
While the study has several limitations (especially a small sample size), the researchers see their results as a major breakthrough.
“For many years our team has been engaged in hyperbaric research and therapy – treatments based on protocols of exposure to high-pressure oxygen at various concentrations inside a pressure chamber,” explains Professor Shai Efrati of the Sackler School of Medicine and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU . “Our achievements over the years included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury.
“In the current study we wished to examine the impact of HBOT on healthy and independent aging adults, and to discover whether such treatments can slow down, stop or even reverse the normal aging process at the cellular level.”
What's perhaps even more remarkable is that the daily HBOT sessions increased telomere length by more than 20% in every single patient -- so it's not that some patients benefited from great results, while others not so much -- all the study participants exhibited positive effects to some level. To put this into context, some studies have shown that a six month high-intensity training regiment increased telomere length by up to 5%. Achieving a much larger telomere increase after a shorter period seems very optimistic -- although this shouldn't be interpreted as a 'magic cure' and does not validate all the claims related to HBOT. The researchers clearly mentioned that they used a specific HBOT protocol.
It's still a small-scale study so these results need to be confirmed in larger sample sizes and followed over a longer period of time. Nevertheless, it's an avenue worth pursuing further.
"With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT and its potential for reversing the aging process," notes Dr. Amir Hadanny, one of the study co-authors.
"Today telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of aging. Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation. Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can in fact be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level."
Repeated intermittent hyperoxic exposures, using certain hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) protocols, can induce regenerative effects which normally occur during hypoxia. The aim of the current study was to evaluate whether HBOT affects TL and senescent cell concentrations in a normal, non-pathological, aging adult population.
The study was published in the journal Aging.