All living beings wither and eventually die. There is no escape from death and treasure, they say. But that does not mean that aging can not be slowed down. In fact, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel took it a step further and showed in a new study that weekly hyperbaric oxygen sessions reversed a key process known to be involved in cellular aging.
The caps on your chromosomes
Every day, every hour, every second of the most important events in life takes place in your body ̵
Telomeres cover and protect the ends of chromosomes from degradation and ensure that our DNA is copied correctly when the cells divide. Due to the way DNA replication is performed in eukaryotic cells (it’s us!), These telomeres shorten with each cellular replication. At some point, the telomeres, which you can imagine as a shoelace cap, shorten to a critical limit. Just as a hood without a hood will loosen and destroy the fabric, so severely shortened telomeres will trigger cell division dysfunction, also known as aging. Over time, accumulation of these aging cells is thought to be one of the primary causes of aging.
Studies have linked abbreviated telomeres not only to aging but also to cancer. As such, the processes that regulate telomeres have been targeted by all sorts of experimental therapies aimed at slowing aging. Of particular interest is an enzyme called telomerase, which appears to have the ability to regenerate lost parts of the telomere – at least it does so in tissues with a high turnover of new cells, such as the lining of the intestine. Some groups view telomerase gene therapy as primarily a form of regenerative medicine. However, these therapies have not been validated due to the small number of participants so far.
In Israel, researchers led by Shair Efrati, a physician from the Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, have taken a different path toward improving telomere health. Their therapy involves inhaling pure oxygen in a pressure chamber with pressure levels 1.5 to 3 times higher than average.
The procedure, known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), is by no means a novelty. For over a century, it has been used to treat deep-sea divers who suffer from decompression sickness or people who have been poisoned with carbon monoxide.
In a clinical trial, 35 healthy adults aged 64 years and older spent 90 minutes in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber saturating their blood with oxygen. Participants repeated this experience once a week for three months.
Blood samples were collected before treatment and during the trial at one-month intervals and two weeks after the end of the trial. It was striking that at the end of the experiment, the telomeres of the participants not only showed no shortening, they actually expanded by 20%. Participants also experienced a marked decrease in the number of senescent T helper cells, showing that the enlarged telomeres can reverse some aging, the authors reported in the journal. Aging.
As a warning, the main limitation of the study is its small sample size. Furthermore, the duration of the effect of the therapy has not yet been determined by long-term follow-ups. But all in all, these are promising results that show that a relatively straightforward and easily accessible form of therapy could one day partially reverse aging – and perhaps even prolong our lifespan.
Until such treatment is confirmed, the best thing you can do to maintain your telomeres is to have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.