Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The secret to eternal youth

“Who wants to live forever?” says a famous Queen song. And even if you don’t want to live forever, you probably have a desire to age gracefully. What does that mean, actually? Well, for me, it means that as I get older, I want to keep my bodily and mental functions the same as they are now. In the end, nobody wants to live to a long age just to become dependent on other people or on some pills to stay alive.

What if I told you there is something that you can do right now to ensure that you reverse aging and make sure you keep your body and mind running at full capacity as you grow old? Would you be interested? Or at least intrigued?

Well, it turns out there is. Drum-roll please…

It’s called Hyperbaric Oxigen Therapy (or HBOT in short).

What is HBOT?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TEYTNI9UEo

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. (Mayo Clinic)

More simply put, you enter in an airtight container, where the air is compressed up to 6 ATA (normally it’s 2–3 ATA, which is the pressure you’d feel diving 33–66 feet under sea level). There, you are given pure oxygen to breathe in.

Me in a HBOT tank

There are 2 types of HBOT containers:

  1. An airtight tank, in which, during the treatment, the air is compressed. Oxygen is then administered to you via a face mask, a hood or endotracheal tube (source) — this can be a chamber for one or more persons.
  2. A chamber which is pressurized with 100 percent oxygen (so the air inside the entire tank also has a high oxygen concentration) — this is possible for only one person.

History

HBOT is not a new therapy. In the 19th century, hyperbaric chambers were already popular in Europe. The founder of hyperbaric medicine is a French engineer, physician and scientist named Paul Bert, who in 1878 wrote about the physiological effects of air under increased and decreased atmospheric pressures in La Pression Barometrique.

In US, one of the promoters of hyperbaric medicine was Dr. Orval Cunningham, from University of Kansas. In 1928, he opened the Cunningham Sanitarium in Cleveland, Ohio, a facility constructed to offer oxygen therapy on a large scale. (Wikipedia)

Fast forward to the present day, HBOT is now used by athletes such as Michael Phelps, LeBron James, Tim Tebow, Brendan Schaub. It’s even popular with celebrities (Justin Bieber sleeps in one).

So how does it work?

The air we normally breathe is about 21% oxygen. People in a hyperbaric chamber are breathing roughly 200% to 240% more oxygen. (source)

The pressure inside the chamber facilitates the absorption of most of the oxygen in the blood and the blood plasma. Pressure is an important factor in this process, because of a chemical law known as Henry’s Law. Henry’s Law states that the solubility of a gas in a liquid is directly proportional to the pressure of that gas above the surface of the solution (source). In common terms, the higher the pressure, the more oxygen can be assimilated in your blood (up to 10 to 20 times more than normal).

Why is it good for you?

Over time, this increase of oxygen in your blood (also known as hyperoxia) will stimulate angiogenesis.

Angiogenesis (from the ancient Greek angeîon, “vessel, urn, pot”, and genesis, “birth”) is the physiological process through which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels (from Wikipedia).

Angiogenesis has received a lot of focus from the scientific community lately, due to its important role in tissue regeneration. The angiogenesis process begins in the embryo and continues throughout our lifetime, being regulated by the body through a complex network of inhibitors and promoters (depending on whether we need more blood vessels or less blood vessels in a part of the body).

In the light of the discovery of this connection between angiogenesis and HBOT, this therapy is now the focus of a lot of studies that look at it as a potential treatment or treatment support for a number of common health concerns.

What is it good for?

The health concerns that can be treated by HBOT vary from helping your body heal faster to serious health issues like inflammatory bowel diseases, traumatic brain injury or even COVID-19. Let’s look at them one by one.

Faster recovery from injury

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Professional sports demand a very high level of performance today, maybe higher than ever before, and it’s expected from professional athletes to be nothing short of super-human. Under this constant pressure to perform better, athletes require fast recovery from both after-training muscular strain and injuries of all sorts, such as joint pain, torn muscles and tendons, fractures or concussions.

A double-blind study on 41 professional athletes (mainly baseball players) has shown a positive impact on recovery times from exercise-related muscular strain. The study measured the level of a number of proteins in the blood of the HBOT group vs. the control group and compared them with known levels corresponding to muscular strain and how fast the levels of these proteins returned to normal. (source)

Wound healing

Photo by CREATIVE HUSSAIN from Pexels

Not only professional athletes can benefit from healing and recovery, but also normal people. HBOT has been shown to aid in treating second to third-degree burns (source).

Diabetic ulcers are also on the list of wounds that heal faster and have an improved healing time with HBOT. Such wounds normally have a long healing time due to lack of proper circulation in the tissue.(source)

Prolonged radiation injuries caused by chemotherapy are also prevented if the patient receives HBOT in addition to chemotherapy. (source)

Age-related cognitive decline

Photo by ALAN DE LA CRUZ on Unsplash

Yep, it happens to the best of us: we get dumber with age. There is a “normal” cognitive decline that comes with old age (source). One possible explanation for this is that in the course of our lives, a number of tiny strokes happen in the brain that go unnoticed and are not painful, but they can cause damage to the white matter of the brain (the nerve fibers connecting the neurons) (source). If this damage is extensive,we are at risk of developing white-matter dementia (WMD).

The good news is that HBOT has the potential to reverse this damage. There was a promising study published by The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at Shamir Medical Center, together with the Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University that looked into the role of HBOT in reversing the effects of aging on the brain (source).

If we think dementia and brain activity decline with age, we think Alzheimer’s. There were some case studies that looked at whether HBOT can improve the cognitive functions of patients with Alzheimer’s, but the improvements were not long-lasting (source). So there is some hope there, but more studies are needed to come to clearer results and find out if HBOT can be combined with medication or other types of treatment to at least improve the lives of people living with this merciless condition.

Traumatic brain injury and brain damage

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pdy9w_3x2Lw

In 2016, oxygen therapy was used by a team from LSU Health New Orleans and the University of North Dakota to reverse brain damage in a 2-year old girl who had drowned and was in clinical death for 2 hours (source).

Before treatment, her condition was:

  • incapacity to chew or swallow
  • loss of gross motor skills (walking, standing up)
  • loss of fine motor skills (picking things up, stacking them)
  • loss of speech capabilities

After only 2 HBOT sessions, her condition improved dramatically. After 40 HBOT sessions, her cerebral functions returned to normal (she was capable of speaking, playing, crawling, eating and so on).

There were also critical voices in the medical community (consultant anesthetist Oliver Sykes from University College London) who doubted that this miraculous recovery was due to HBOT, and declared it his hard to believe that such results are repeatable.

As a counter-argument, there are other reports of improvements in patients treated with HBOT after traumatic brain injury (TBI) (source).

Ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease

Photo by Ava Sol on Unsplash

These are chronic inflammatory bowel conditions with a negative impact on the daily lives of millions of people worldwide. The possibility to treat them with HBOT was not explored until recently, and it’s not on the list of approved uses for this therapy. However, it seems that there are some promising results reported, with a limited number of studies and a limited number of patients reporting a significant decrease in symptoms for forms of the disease that were resistant to conventional treatments (source).

COVID-19

Photo by CDC from Pexels

Last but not least, there is empirical evidence that HBOT is a potential solution to ameliorate hypoxia (low oxygen), which is common in patients who develop respiratory insufficiency due to COVID-19.

Hyperbaric oxigen was administered to 20 COVID-19 patients at NYU Winthrop Hospital between 31 March and 28 April 2020 with promising results. (source)

In another recently published case series, in Louisiana, USA, 5 patients with “impeding intubation” was treated with hyperbaric oxygen, patients symptoms was immediately relieved and they all recovered after 1–6 treatments without intubation and mechanical ventilation.

This evidence is obviously not enough to prove the positive impact of HBOT in the treatment of COVID-19, but there are several clinical studies underway that aim to demonstrate if this is so (source).

Conclusion

HBOT is not a new therapy, but its various positive effects started to be explored more thoroughly in recent years by the scientific community. Results look promising, and it’s something that has the potential to become a powerful ally in humanity’s fight against injury, aging and disease.

More sources

Web developer, amateur runner, adventurer, geek, aspiring data explorer

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store