All living things eventually wither and die. They say you will not escape death and taxes. But this does not mean that aging cannot be slowed down. In fact, researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have taken a step forward, showing in a new study that weekly hyperbaric oxygen sessions reverse a key process known to be involved in cellular aging.
The caps on your chromosomes
Every day, every hour, every second, one of the most important events in life happens in your body ̵
Telomeres cover and protect the ends of chromosomes from breaking down, making sure our DNA is copied properly when cells divide. Because of the way DNA replicates in eukaryotic cells (that’s us!), These telomeres shorten with each cell replication. At one point, the telomeres, which you can imagine as caps on the shoelace, are shortened to a critical limit. Just as the bond of the shoe without the cap will untangle and destroy the tissue, so the severely shortened telomeres will trigger the malfunction of cell division, also known as aging. Over time, the accumulation of these aging cells is considered to be one of the main causes of aging.
Studies have linked shortened telomeres not only to aging but also to cancer. As such, the processes that regulate telomeres have been targeted by any experimental therapies designed to slow 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 gut. Some groups consider telomerase gene therapy as a major 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 doctor at the Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neurology at Tel Aviv University, have taken a different path to improving telomere health. Their therapy involves breathing pure oxygen into 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 new. It has been used for more than a century to treat deep-sea divers suffering from decompression sickness or people poisoned with carbon monoxide.
In a clinical trial, 35 healthy adults aged 64 and over spent 90 minutes in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber that saturates their blood with oxygen. Participants repeated this experience once a week for three months.
Blood samples were collected before treatment and during the test at one-month intervals as well as two weeks after the end of the study. Surprisingly, by the end of the test, participants’ telomeres not only showed no shortening, but actually lengthened by 20%. Participants also experienced a significant drop in the number of obsolete T helper cells, suggesting that dilated telomeres may reverse some aging, the authors said in the journal Aging.
As a warning, the main limitation of the study is its small sample size. In addition, the duration of the effect of the therapy is yet to be determined by long-term follow-up. But with all this in mind, these are promising results, showing that a relatively clear and easily accessible form of therapy may one day partially reverse aging – and perhaps even prolong our lives.
Until such therapy is confirmed, the best thing you can do to maintain your telomeres is to have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.