Reversing ageing with oxygen
Humans have longed to reverse the effects of ageing and prolong their lives. While ageing is a natural process, we have always sought to delay it, be it through science and medicine, through the search for magical elixirs and treatments, or even the mythical Fountain of Youth.
Now, though, Israeli scientists are claiming to have found a way to not only slow the process of biological ageing, but to reverse it, simply by administering pure high-pressure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. And they’ve released their findings in a study published on November 18.
As we grow in years and our cells divide, the sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes — known as telomeres — grow shorter. After the telomeres become too short, the cell is unable to replicate and eventually dies.
While telomere shortening can keep rogue cancerous cells from multiplying rapidly, it also results in genetic ageing. Geriatric cells that aren’t able to divide — also known as senescent cells — accumulate throughout our lives, and are one of the key causes of ageing.
In the study, 35 people aged 64 and over were given hyperbaric oxygen treatments (HBOT) for 90 minutes a day, five times a week over the course of three months. Blood samples were collected from participants prior to treatment, after the first and second months of the trial, and two weeks after the trial ended. No changes were made to lifestyle, diet or medication during the trial period.
What the researchers found was a major increase in telomere length and a reduction in the number of senescent cells. They also noted an improvement in attention span, in the ability to process information, as well as better executive functioning.
Shai Efrati, an associate professor at Tel Aviv University, told the Jerusalem Post, “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 ageing process can, in fact, be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level.” This groundbreaking study, he adds, “gives hope and opens the door for a lot of young scientists to target ageing as a reversible disease.”
While attempts to halt ageing by modifying one’s lifestyle or by exercising intensively can provide “some inhibiting effect on telomere shortening”, Efrati’s partner at the Shamir Medical Centre, Chief Medical Research Officer Amir Hadanny says HBOT is more effective. “In our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications,” he adds.
“Today, telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of ageing,” says Prof. Efrati. “We are not [just] slowing the decline; we are going backwards in time.”
ABOVE (inset) Inside a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber at the Aviv Clinic in Florida
PHOTO Aviv Clinic