Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Reverses Biological Signs of Aging

By Megan Brooks

November 20, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Two biological hallmarks of aging - telomere shortening and accumulation of senescent cells - can apparently be reversed with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), according to a new study from Israel.

"Following 20 years of research, we are able to demonstrate that the aging process can be reversed at the cellular (telomere) and brain-tissue structural and functional levels," Dr. Shai Efrati of the Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University told Reuters Health by email.

From post-concussion syndrome studies, "we learned that HBOT can induce angiogenesis and neurogenesis in the brain. Since occlusion of blood vessels and loss of neurons play a crucial role in the aging brain, we (thought) that perhaps HBOT can reverse the biological deterioration that happens during what is considered 'normal aging,'" Dr. Efrati explained.

In addition, NASA's twin experiment - where one twin was sent to space while the other stayed on earth - demonstrated a significant difference in the twin's telomere length, "leading us to the conclusion that the outside environment may affect core cellular changes that happen as a person ages," Dr. Efrati said.

"Based on this, we have worked to optimize the HBOT protocol so that the environmental changes generated while the person is in the chamber target the biological changes taking place at the cellular level," Dr. Efrati said.

In the study, published in Aging, 35 healthy adults aged 64 and older each received 60 daily HBOT sessions over the course of 90 days. Whole blood samples were collected prior to treatment, at the 30th and 60th session, as well as one to two weeks following the last HBOT session, to assess telomere length and accumulation of senescent cells in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PMBCs).

Four patients were excluded from the telomere analysis and 10 from the senescent-cell analysis due to low quality of the blood samples (low number of cells or technician error).

Telomere length in T helper, T cytotoxic, natural killer and B cells increased significantly (by more than 20%) following HBOT.

The most significant change was in B cells, which increased at the 30th session, 60th session and after HBOT by 26% (P=0.007), 29% (P=0.0001) and 38% (P=0.007), respectively, the researchers report.

Additionally, the number of senescent T helpers decreased by a significant 37% post-HBOT (P<0.0001). T-cytotoxic senescent cell percentages also decreased significantly (by 11%; P=0.0004) after HBOT.

"Now that we have demonstrated that HBOT can increase telomere length and reduce the number of senescent cells, the 'holy grail' of the aging process, the aging process can be targeted just like any other chronic disease," Dr. Efrati told Reuters Health.

"Further studies are needed in order to optimize the specific protocol per individual. In addition, now that it has been proven in humans that the biological aging processes can be reversed, scientists will be encouraged to develop additional interventions to target and reverse unwanted age-related deterioration," Dr. Efrati added.

Dr. Paul G. Harch, clinical professor of medicine, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, has been on the forefront of clinical research into HBOT for more than three decades.

He recently reported results of a randomized controlled crossover study showing that HBOT markedly reduces multiple symptoms of persistent postconcussion syndrome following mild traumatic brain injury (https://bit.ly/3pANmbR).

"The recent findings announced by Israeli researchers on reduction in senescent cells and increase in telomere length of peripheral mononuclear blood cells suggest HBOT effects on anti-aging biology and potentially confirms ours and others' clinical experience treating elderly patients with and without chronic disease," Dr. Harch told Reuters Health by email.

"It is also consistent with the known location of HBOT's primary effects, our DNA," Dr. Harch explained.

He cautioned, however, that the Israeli results are limited by "data sets complicated by significant numbers of dropouts" and by lack of a control group and clearly defined inclusion criteria.

Therefore, "a definitive causative effect of HBOT on senescent cell reduction and telomere lengthening in PBMC cells is not possible. I look forward to more research on this subject," Dr. Harch said.

The study was funded by a research grant from the Sagol network for neuroscience. Dr. Efrati is a shareholder at AVIV Scientific Ltd, which focuses on aging and hyperbaric medicine. Dr. Harch owns a consulting company called Harch Hyperbarics, Inc.

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3lPczwP Aging, online November 18, 2020.