Can Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Reverse Aging?

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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy stops raging
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A study published in the journal Aging has found that hyperbaric oxygen treatment can reverse the aging process in healthy adult cells. 

Although aging is an inevitable part of life, researchers have been searching for a way to stop or reverse the process for quite some time. However, that has less to do with preserving one’s physical beauty and more to do with preserving the health of our cells. Therefore, a team of researchers in Israel set out to investigate the effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) on aging cells.

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.

Professor Shai Efrati, author of the study

Telomere Shortening – ‘Holy Grail’ of Cellular Aging

Aging is associated with certain cellular processes which include shortening of telomeres and an increase in the number of old cells in the body. 

Telomeres are located at the end of the chromosomes and tend to shorten during cell replication. With time, the length of the telomeres shortens till they reach a length that does not allow further cell replication. Thus, resulting in cell death. Telomere shortening along with other factors contribute to cellular senescence. This leads to an accumulation of old and malfunctioning cells in the body. 

Both these processes result in increased effects of aging. Therefore, researchers investigated whether HBOT affects the telomere length and population of old cells in the body.

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment?

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Chamber
Source: James Heilman/Wikipedia

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing 100% oxygen at pressures two to three times higher than normal. Thus, increasing the amount of oxygen within the blood and tissues. Although initially developed for treating respiratory diseases, HBOT soon became popular among other conditions. The extra oxygen in the body promotes healing, therefore, making HBOT useful in treating gangrenes, non-healing wounds, and radiation injuries. Furthermore, it is also widely used among divers for the treatment of decompression sickness. 

Patients can receive the oxygen in an individual chamber or in a hyperbaric room where a mask delivers the gas inside their body. 

HBOT Reverses Aging

The team of researchers recruited 35 adults aged 64 years or older, with a good cognitive status. Participants received instructions to avoid any lifestyle or diet changes during the course of the treatment.

Each participant received 5 sessions per week within a 3-month period. At each session, they breathed in 100% oxygen through a mask for 90 minutes in total. Each participant was allowed a 5-minute air break every 20 minutes.

Blood samples were taken before, during, and after the end of the treatments. Results showed a decrease of 11-37% in the population of senescent cells. Furthermore, the telomere length increased instead of shortening. B cells showed the most increase in their telomere lengths.

But in our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications.

Dr. Amir Hadanny, author of the study

This is the first time researchers have found evidence of HBOT increasing telomere length in humans. However, the study has a few limitations. Along with the small sample size, there is no data is available on the long-term follow-up of the participants. Therefore, researchers cannot predict the long-term implications of hyperbaric oxygen on aging-associated cellular processes. 

Reference:

Hachmo Y, Hadanny A, Hamed RA, et al. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases telomere length and decreases immunosenescence in isolated blood cells: a prospective trial. Aging. 2020. doi:10.18632/aging.202188

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