Hyperbaric oxygen treatments can stop the aging of blood cells and even reverse the aging process in healthy aging adults, according to a recently published study from scientists at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Shamir Medical Center.

The researchers found that a unique protocol of high-pressure oxygen treatments in a pressure chamber can reverse two major processes associated with aging: the shortening of telomeres (protective regions at both ends of every chromosome) and the accumulation of old, malfunctioning (senescent) cells.

“For many years, our team has been engaged in hyperbaric research and therapy — treatments based on protocols of exposure to high-pressure oxygen at various concentrations inside a pressure chamber,” explained Prof. Shai Efrati of the Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at TAU and founder and director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at Shamir Medical Center.

“Our achievements included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury,” Efrati said.

In 2017, ISRAEL21c reported on another Tel Aviv University study that revealed that hyperbaric oxygen treatments helped ameliorate symptoms experienced by people with Alzheimer’s.

“In the current study we wished to examine the impact of HBOT on healthy and independent aging adults, and to discover whether such treatments can slow down, stop or even reverse the normal aging process at the cellular level,” said Efrati. 

The researchers exposed 35 healthy adults aged 64 or over to a series of 60 hyperbaric sessions over a period of 90 days.

Each participant provided blood samples before, during and at the end of the treatments as well as a week or two after the series of treatments concluded.

They then analyzed immune cells in participants’ blood and discovered a lengthening of up to 38 percent in the telomeres.

Telomeres before and after hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Image courtesy of Tel Aviv University

“Today, telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of aging,” Efrati says.

“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 aging process can in fact be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level.”

More effective than lifestyle modifications

Dr. Amir Hadanny, chief medical research officer of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research, said that until now, interventions such as lifestyle modifications and intense exercise were shown to have some inhibiting effect on telomere shortening.

“But in our study, only three months of HBOT were able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications,” Hadanny said.

“With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT and its potential for reversing the aging process.”

In their paper published in the journal Aging on November 18, they also report that the treated study participants also had a decrease of up to 37% in nonfunctioning senescent cells.

Multiplace chambers

The unique HBOT therapy featured in this study was done at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Be’er Ya’akov using a multi-seat hyperbaric chamber – not the one-person tanks many people are familiar with.

This protocol is available to the public at Sagol and in the United States at Aviv Clinics in The Villages, Florida. Efrati is chairman of the medical advisory board of Aviv Scientific, owner of Aviv Clinics. Hadanny, a neurosurgeon, is the company’s chief researcher and head of international clinical operations.

Telomeres before and after hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Image courtesy of Tel Aviv University

Efrati and Hadanny have done many other studies on the benefits of HBOT.

A previous randomized controlled clinical trial led by Efrati and Hadanny, published in Aging last June, found that HBOT in healthy people 60 and older caused cognitive enhancements in attention, information processing speed and executive functions, compared to the control group.

In March 2019, ISRAEL21c reported on another study by Efrati and Hadanny suggesting that HBOT was helpful for survivors of childhood sexual abuse who developed fibromyalgia (a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain, fatigue and cognitive issues) as a result of their post-traumatic distress.