By Frank Long, MS, Editorial Director

In 1986 the National Enquirer published a photograph of celebrity entertainer Michael Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber. Jackson did this, reportedly, to surround himself with high concentrations of oxygen to retain a youthful appearance. Jackson’s behavior was characterized at the time as kooky, but new study results published in Aging prove that what was once thought kooky is now therapy.

Something in the Air

The age-reversing effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) were observed in telomeres among 35 test subjects in a test conducted at Tel Aviv University. Telomeres are a significant factor in the aging process; they are an indicator of a person’s biological age and they shorten with each round of cell division. As telomeres shorten cells fail to function properly, which allows DNA to become damaged and causes cell death or malfunction.

O2 Grow Younger

Understanding the importance of telomeres sets the stage for appreciating the breakthrough nature of the Tel Aviv University group’s findings. Those findings are as follows, according to a recent report in The Telegraph:

For a 3-month period test subjects spent 90 minutes five days per week in a hyperbaric chamber. While in the chamber each subject breathed 100% pure oxygen. As a result, telomere length increased by 20% among the study subjects.

For perspective, high intensity physical training increases telomere length only by 5%.

Holy Grail

“Since telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of ageing, many pharmacological and environmental interventions are being extensively explored in the hopes of enabling telomere elongation,” says Shai Efrati, MD, one of the study’s co-authors.

Efrati is a professor of the Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, whose publish research includes studies focused on the effect of HBOT on post-stroke patients and as treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Oxygen Starvation is Good?

The key to the age-reversing effect found among the study subjects appears to come from hypoxia-like effects created by the hyperbaric chamber allowing greater amounts of oxygen into tissues than normal. The process is reported to have regenerative properties.

Efrati says that the protocol offers the scientific community a new foundation on which to understand aging. “[Aging] can indeed be targeted and reversed at the basic cellular-biological level,” Efrati says.

Good for the Brain

Individuals who are concerned about cognitive decline as they age may also find encouraging news from the study results. The authors reported “striking improvements” in attention and information processing speed, as well as improvement in executive functions. All three measures tend to decline with aging.

The researchers noted that the 35 study subjects treated with HBOT demonstrated significant increases in cerebral blood flow (CBF) compared to the control group. They added, “In this study, HBOT was shown to induce cognitive enhancements in healthy aging adults via mechanisms involving regional changes in CBF.”