WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
With enough knowledge and the right tools we can arguably solve most problems – including ageing.
How old are you? That used to be an easy question to answer, but now I could be asking how old you are in actual years or what your biological age is – and as new anti-aging breakthroughs emerge this latter question means that for the first time in human history your actual age and your body’s biological age could be different. And, from an individual and societal perspective, that’s huge – so huge in fact that recently a man in Holland went to court to get his age legally changed because he argued that even though he was 69 he had the body of a 49 year old, suffice had he won the societal implications, on everything from welfare and pensions, to retirement ages, would have been Earth shattering.
A while ago scientists managed to increase the life span of rats by a third, and elsewhere other breakthroughs went to human trials. And if all that fails then there’s always suspended animation to fall back on to help you “live longer.” Now though, in another hurrah for the field scientists in Israel say they have managed to successfully reverse the human biological ageing process using only oxygen.
The Hyperbaric treatment center. Courtesy: TAU
Recent research led by Tel Aviv University Prof. Shai Efrati, together with a team from Shamir Medical Center, found that when healthy adults over the age of 64 were placed in a pressurised chamber and given pure oxygen for 90 minutes a day, five days a week for three months, not only was the aging process delayed – it was actually reversed.
Specifically, the study, which is published in the peer-reviewed journal Aging, focused on whether the process could reverse two key indicators of biological aging – the shortening of DNA telomeres and the accumulation of resultant senescent cells.
A telomere is the end of a chromosome. Telomeres are made of repetitive sequences of non-coding DNA that serve as bumpers to protect the chromosome from damage during replication. Every time replication happens, these bumpers take a hit, making them shorter and shorter. Once the telomere reaches a certain length, the cell cannot replicate anymore, which leads to senescent cells – aging, malfunctioning cells that ultimately lead to cognitive or other age-related disabilities and even diseases, such as cancer.
Some 35 adults over the age of 64 were involved in the study and were administered Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) utilising 100 percent oxygen in an environmental pressure higher than one absolute atmospheres to enhance the amount of oxygen dissolved in the body’s tissues.
“I entered healthy and left a tiger,” commented one volunteer.
Every 20 minutes, the participants were asked to remove their masks for five minutes, bringing their oxygen back to normal levels. However, during this period, researchers saw that fluctuations in the free oxygen concentration were interpreted at the cellular level as a lack of oxygen – rather than interpreting the absolute level of oxygen.
In other words, repeated intermittent Hyperoxic, or increased oxygen level, exposures induced many of the mediators and cellular mechanisms that are usually induced during Hypoxia, or decreased oxygen levels, something Efrati explained is called the Hyperoxic-Hypoxic Paradox.
“The oxygen fluctuation we generated is what is important,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “During this process, a state of oxygen shortage resulted, which caused cell regeneration.”
The practical results of the trials also apparently included improvements in attention, information processing speed and so called executive functions which normally decline with age, and which afflict more than 50 percent of people over the age of 60. Furthermore, and perhaps most impressively, especially if true with if being the operative word there, at the cellular level the volunteers bodies were 25 years younger than previously.
“We are not [just] slowing the [ageing] decline – we are going backwards in time,” Efrati said.
Efrati has been studying the ageing process for a decade and runs the Aviv Clinics in Florida. This study, he said, is proof that the cellular basis for the ageing process can be reversed, adding that it “gives hope and opens the door for a lot of young scientists to target ageing as a reversible disease.” It could also enable doctors and scientists to find a way to monitor telomere length and develop medications that could help them grow back when needed.
So, will it make people live longer? The effect’s duration is yet to be determined in the long-term, Efrati said. But “probably yes. We know that people with shorter telomeres die earlier, so it makes sense.”
One disadvantage of the study, however, was its limited sample size. Efrati added the experiment was conducted using a scientific, monitored HBOT chamber and people should not try this at home. He then cautioned, “There is a lot of junk out there claiming sacs inflated with air are hyperbaric treatments. This is not what is being used in the studies, it is not effective – and moreover, it could be dangerous.”
Source: Times of Israel