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New hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves cognitive function in ‘aging’ population – Israeli study

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According to the researchers ‘the main areas of improvement were attention, information processing speed, executive function, in addition to the global cognitive function, all of which typically decline with age’

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a first, Israeli scientists have found that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can significantly enhance cognitive performance in healthy older adults.

The study was conducted by Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at Shamir Medical Center, together with the Sackler School of Medicine and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University.

“The main areas of improvement were attention, information processing speed, executive function, in addition to the global cognitive function, all of which typically decline with age,” the research team said in a statement released on Wednesday. “Moreover, there was a significant correlation between the cognitive changes and improved cerebral blood flow in specific brain locations.”

The article entitled, “Cognitive enhancement of healthy older adults using hyperbaric oxygen: a randomized controlled trial,” explains that the study was designed based on a unique HBOT protocol developed at the Sagol Center over the past 10 years.

Director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at Shamir Medical Center Prof. Shai Efrati conducted the study with Dr. Amir Hadanny also of the center.

Efrati, who is also an associate professor at Sackler School of Medicine and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, pointed out that age-related cognitive and functional decline has become a significant concern in the Western world. 

“Major research efforts around the world are focused on improving the cognitive performance of the so-called ‘normal’ aging population,” he said. “In our study, for the first time in humans, we have found an effective and safe medical intervention that can address this unwanted consequence of our age-related deterioration.”

The team conducted a clinical trial that included 63 healthy adults over the age of 65, with some of them undergoing HBOT and breathing pure oxygen for several hours at a time. 

HBOT consists of the patient breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber where the air pressure is increased to twice that of normal air. 

“This process increases oxygen solubility in the blood that travels throughout the body,” Efrati explained. “The added oxygen stimulates the release of growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.” 

HBOT, he added, “has been applied worldwide mostly to treat chronic non-healing wounds.”

Featured image: Prof. Shai Efrati, director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research
Above image: Hyperbaric chambers at the Sagol Center
(Credit: The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research)

The study’s main goal was to look at the general cognitive function measured by a standardized comprehensive battery of computerized cognitive assessments before and after the intervention or control. Cerebral blood flow was evaluated using a new magnetic resonance imaging technique for brain perfusion.

According to Hadanny, following years of research, “we have developed an advanced understanding of HBOT’s ability to restore brain function. 

“In the past,” he said, “we have demonstrated HBOT’s potential to improve/treat brain injuries such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and anoxic brain injury (due to sustained lack of oxygen supply) by increasing brain blood flow and metabolism.”

He stressed that this “landmark research” could have a far-reaching effect “on the way we view the aging process and the ability to treat its symptoms.”

The team highlighted that there is a growing body of evidence on the regenerative effects of HBOT. 

In their study, the researchers illustrated that combining high levels of oxygen and pressure in a hyperbaric environment, leads to significant improvement in tissue oxygenation while targeting both oxygen and pressure sensitive genes, resulting in restored and enhanced tissue metabolism.

Additionally, the team found that these targeted genes induce the rapid increase of stem cells, reduce inflammation and generate new blood vessels, as well as tissue repair mechanisms.

Efrati pointed out that a dominant element in the human aging process is the closing of small blood vessels, otherwise known as occlusion.

“This led us to speculate that HBOT may affect brain performance of the aging population,” he explained. “We found that HBOT induced a significant increase in brain blood flow, which correlated with cognitive improvement, confirming our theory.”

Efrati said that one can surmise that similar beneficial effects of HBOT “can be induced in other organs of the aging body. 

“These will be investigated in our upcoming research,” he concluded.  

The study was published on Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Aging.

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