Posted on 5 June 2023
Exploring the breath of life: Could the key to a longer, healthier life be in the air we breathe?
In the quest for longevity, we often look to complex medical procedures, expensive supplements, or rigorous workout regimens. But what if the secret to extending our lifespan was as simple as changing the air we breathe? This may sound like science fiction, but recent research suggests there might be more to it than hot air. Dive with us into the surprising world of hypoxia and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and discover how the oxygen around—and within—us could hold the key to living a longer, healthier life.
The link between oxygen and lifespan has been a recent topic of scientific scrutiny, sparked by a groundbreaking study on Ercc1 Δ/- mice, a model of accelerated aging. The researchers found that chronic continuous hypoxia, or lowered oxygen levels, surprisingly extended the lifespan of these mice by 50% and delayed the onset of neurological disorders.
The mice were exposed to a normobaric chamber with 11% oxygen, which is significantly lower than the 21% typically present in the air we breathe. Remarkably, these mice lived much longer than their counterparts who breathed normal air, and they also exhibited better motor functions.
However, it is important to note that this study was performed on a specific type of mouse that is genetically engineered to age faster than normal. While this is a promising start, it’s still a long way from concluding that the same benefits would apply to humans or even normal mice.
In the quest for understanding the mechanisms behind this hypoxia-induced lifespan extension, the researchers discovered some interesting points. They found that the mice in hypoxia ate more food, yet their body weights were unchanged. This suggests that hypoxia might have some metabolic impacts that are yet to be fully understood.
Moreover, the researchers also found that the mice subjected to hypoxia had a significant increase in hematocrit, a measure of the proportion of blood volume that is occupied by red blood cells. This might be a compensatory mechanism to increase oxygen delivery to tissues in response to the low-oxygen environment, which could potentially interfere with the longevity benefits of hypoxia over time.
Lastly, hypoxia did not seem to impact markers of DNA damage or cellular senescence, which are key contributors to the aging process. This suggests that the lifespan-extending effects of hypoxia might be operating through some yet-to-be-discovered mechanisms.
While the concept of hypoxia as a lifespan-extending intervention is still in its early stages, a related approach—hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)—has been long studied in humans for various health benefits. HBOT involves breathing 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber, which increases the amount of oxygen that can be delivered to tissues.
Research has shown that HBOT can help heal wounds, fight infections, and treat conditions like decompression sickness in divers and carbon monoxide poisoning. More recent research is exploring its potential benefits in treating neurological conditions and improving general health and well-being in aging humans.
In conclusion, the role of oxygen in health and longevity is a fascinating area of research. While the idea of hypoxia as a lifespan extender is still in its infancy and has its limitations, it opens up new avenues for understanding the complex biology of aging. On the other hand, the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are well-documented and continue to be explored in the context of human health and longevity.
So, next time you take a deep breath, remember—it might just be the key to a longer and healthier life!
Rogers, R., Wang, H., Durham, T., Stefely, J., Owiti, N. & Markhard AL, N. (2023). Hypoxia extends lifespan and neurological function in a mouse model of aging.. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3002117
Boussi-Gross, R., Golan, H., Fishlev, G., Bechor, Y., Volkov, O. & Bergan, J. (2013). Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Improve Post Concussion Syndrome Years after Mild Traumatic Brain Injury - Randomized Prospective Trial.. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0079995
Leung, J. & Lam, R. (2018). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: its use in medical emergencies and its development in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Med J, 24(2), 191-199. 10.12809/hkmj176875.
Daly, S., Thorpe, M., Rockswold, S., Hubbard, M., Bergman, T., Samadani, U. & Rockswold, G. (2018). Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in the Treatment of Acute Severe Traumatic Brain Injury: A Systematic Review. J Neurotrauma., 35(4), 623–629. 10.1089/neu.2017.5225
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