Anti-Aging & Wellness Corner

Breakthrough Oxygen Therapy Reverses the Aging Process


By: Navin Geria

Breakthrough Oxygen Therapy Reverses the Aging Process

Oxygen therapy is available at many ski lodges situated at high altitudes. Many athletes, skiers and mountain climbers swear by the treatment they get at oxygen bars, and insist it improves workout performance, reduces fatigue and helps overcome jetlag. Skin care formulators can, apparently, take advantage of oxygen therapy, too, and according to Dr. Norman Edelman, scientific advisor at the American Lung Association, for the most part, these treatments are safe and harmless.

Oxygen has been found to be an important component in skin rejuvenation, treatment of photoaging skin and improvement in skin complexion. Oxygen is the safest “drug” when administered by trained professionals. The interest in the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for this purpose is growing and becoming widespread. Applying the simple laws of physics, HBOT is safe and non-invasive therapy and is the most trusted to increase oxygen levels to all organs of the body. It is a therapy trusted by both health professionals and alternative specialists. It is a non-pharmaceutical, natural therapy with amazing healing and regenerative properties. This is the reason why some superstar athletes, celebrities and health innovators use it and many of them have hyperbaric chambers installed in their homes. Because HBOT heals from within, it is an ideal therapy for healing wounds after injury or surgery.

An average HBOT session is mostly safe and painless. The typical treatment lasts 60 to 90 minutes, during which time you relax in the pressurized chamber and you breathe normally. You may experience a feeling similar to flying in a plane or diving. Air pressure must be equalized in the ears during the 15-minute compression and decompression phases by either swallowing or yawning. Oxygen is used in skin care because it is thought that delivery of natural oxygen increases cell metabolism.

A Lot of Hot Air?

According to market research firm Grand View Research, the hyperbaric oxygen therapy equipment market size is expected to approach $4 billion by 2025. More skin care clinics rely on oxygen therapy to rejuvenate skin and reduce elasticity loss that leads to lines and wrinkles. The oxygen facial, on the other hand, is a high-pressure blast of oxygen with a few beauty actives in it, with the goal of plumping and smoothing skin. The treatment instantly firms and lifts using hyperbaric technology to saturate the skin with oxygen and infuse a rejuvenating hyaluronic acid serum—but it could potentially be achieved using normal compressed air. The term “oxygen” sounds scientific, pure and expensive. It is worth noting that, according to Dermatologist Leslie Baumann, many active ingredients that are used as buzzwords in skin care, including oxygen, stem cells and hyaluronic acid, cannot even penetrate the skin, which makes them useless.

This column examines skin rejuvenation and the aging process. Behnke and Shaw used hyperbaric oxygen in 1937 to treat decompression sickness, which began the modern era of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.1 This type of therapy uses oxygen and air pressure to treat many different sicknesses and injuries from open wounds and burns to certain types of poisonings and circulation issues. Pressure makes all the difference. Under pressure, oxygen is dissolved in larger quantities in the blood plasma itself, not just the red blood cells. That means a much higher amount of the gas is transported into tissues that need it for healing. You probably would need a few treatments to see the benefit. This environment allows for oxygen to dissolve and saturate circulation system delivering a high concentration of oxygen to all cells and tissues. The powerful oxygenation boosts microscopic blood vessel growth. Hypoxic tissue or low oxygen levels can lead to aging and eventual cell death. This feature is a common component in most major health conditions.

Elongating Telomeres

A clinical study evaluated whether HBOT affects telomere length (TL) and senescent cell concentrations in normal, non-pathological aging adult population, or the research targeted specific cells and DNA linked to shorter lifespans. This first-of-its-kind study was conducted by Professor Shai Efrati of the Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, Israel,2 as part of a comprehensive Israeli Research Program that targets aging as a reversible condition. With this pioneering study, Efrati opened a door for further research on the cellular impact of HBOT and its potential for reversing the aging process of elderly people through oxygen therapy. Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that could enable telomere elongation, as shorter telomeres are linked to diseases like dementia and cancer. Until now, interventions such as lifestyle modifications and intense physical exercise have shown very little inhibiting effect on telomere shortening.

According to Efrati, telomere shortening is considered the “Holy Grail” of biology of aging. Aging is characterized by the progressive loss of physiological capacity. There are two major processes that contribute to human aging. First, the telomeres which are protective regions at the end of every chromosome, start to shorten. Second, old and malfunctioning cells accumulate in the body. These are called senescent cells whose lifecycle has come to an end. In the normal scheme of things, such cells are eliminated from the body by the immune system. But in some cases, this fails to happen and they accumulate in tissues while remaining metabolically active, with potentially serious consequences for health, though scientists are not sure why. Importantly, senolytics, which are anti-aging drugs that remove these harmful cells from our bodies, could treat a range of diseases that plague the elderly. This class of small molecules can selectively induce death of senescent cells and improve health in humans. These agents delay, prevent, alleviate or reverse age-related diseases. A related concept is “senostatic,” which means to suppress senescence. Senescence is naturally initiated in cells as they age.

When cells are damaged beyond repair, they enter a protective state known as senescence, in which they cease dividing. It is triggered by the shortening of telomeres, which become shorter with each successive DNA replication. After a certain point, this replication of DNA ceases, and the cell stops dividing before dying a natural death. Scientists have recently shown that stress leads to an acceleration in cellular aging by intensifying this telomere shortening. At the cellular level, two key hallmarks of the aging process include telomere length shortening and cellular senescence.

Repeated intermittent hypoxic exposures using certain hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) protocols, can induce regenerative effects which normally occur during hypoxia. Efrati’s HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can, in fact, be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level. In this clinical study, only three months of HBOT was able to elongate telomeres at rates far beyond any currently available interventions or lifestyle modifications. In this study, 35 healthy independently living adults, aged 64 and older, received 60 daily HBOT exposures. Whole blood samples were collected at base line, at the 30th and 60th session, and 1-2 weeks following the last HBOT session. This intermittent increasing of oxygen concentration induces many of the mediators and cellular mechanisms needed for regeneration.

Efrati maintains that this fluctuation of oxygen induces a regenerative mechanism that is usually induced during hypoxia, a lack of oxygen, but this therapy protocol “fools” the body into a state of hypoxia without it being hazardous. This protocol was tried on healthy adults because, as people age, blood vessels carry less oxygen and according to him, hyperbaric treatment compensates for this lack of oxygen. Telomere lengths and senescence were assessed. In conclusion, the study indicates that HBOT may induce significant senolytic effects including significantly increasing telomere length and clearance of senescent cells in the aging populations. Researchers found that the pressurized sessions reduced senescent cells, which cause tissue and organ deterioration, by up to 37%.

Some Caveats

Reflecting on this study, a professor of psychology who was not involved in the study, Dr. Hillel Aviezer of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, noted that it was an interesting study with some promising preliminary outcomes. However, there is still room for caution in interpreting the results. Specifically, the control group did not undergo any intervention while hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) group experienced a highly intense protocol of meetings for multiple days a week, across several months. The HBOT group’s weekly structured meetings, social interactions with testers and natural placebo effects may have all contributed to the improved attention and processing speed found in the results. Still, the study provides a nice step forward, and will hopefully trigger future work with more tightly controlled, double-blind experimental designs.

HBOT is an FDA-approved medical treatment that enhances tissue levels of life-saving oxygen. Hyperbaric chambers are found around the world to treat conditions including decompression sickness, air embolisms and thermal burns. The FDA has cleared the therapy for these three conditions and 10 others, but urges people to consider other claims with caution, and warns that use of the chambers can carry risks of joint pain and even paralysis. It raised concerns that hyperbaric therapy has been “touted” as a “universal treatment.”

This life changing revolutionary research has successfully treated two significant hallmarks of aging. In the future, hopefully, this promising innovation will prove to be effective in a double-blind clinical trial. This research could potentially keep seniors vital and healthy as long as they live. 

1. Power of pure oxygen, Dr. Hirschenbein, Healthy Aging 5/9/2007.
2. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Prospective Trial, Dr. Sai Efrati et al. Tel Aviv University, Israel. —News Release.

Navin Geria
Chief Scientific Officer
Ayurderm Technologies, LLC
[email protected]
Navin Geria, former Pfizer Research Fellow is a cosmetic and pharmaceutical product development chemist and the chief scientific officer of AyurDerm Technologies LLC, which provides Ayurvedic, natural and cosmeceutical custom formulation development and consulting services to the spa-wellness-dermatology industries. He has launched dozens of cosmeceutical and ayurvedic anti-aging products. Geria has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Clairol, Warner-Lambert, Schick-Energizer, Bristol-Myers and Spa Dermaceuticals. He has nearly 20 US patents and has been published extensively. Geria edited the Handbook of Skin-Aging Theories for Cosmetic Formulation Development focus book published in April 2016 by Harry’s Cosmeticology. He is a speaker, moderator and chairman at cosmetic industry events.

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