A new Israeli study finds that a new hyperbaric oxygen therapy protocol can improve cognitive function in older adults.
The main areas of improvement were attention, information processing speed, and executive function, in addition to global cognitive function. All of these typically decline with age, according to researchers at the Shamir Medical Center and the Sackler School of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
The researchers report there was also a “significant correlation between the cognitive changes and improved cerebral blood flow in specific brain locations.”
The randomized controlled clinical trial included 63 healthy adults with an average age of 64. According to the researchers, 33 underwent HBOT for three months, while the remaining 30 were the control group.
Cognitive function was measured by a standardized comprehensive battery of computerized cognitive assessments before and after the three months. Cerebral blood flow (CBF) was evaluated by a magnetic resonance imaging technique for brain perfusion.
“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,” said co-author Dr. Shai Efrati, head of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research, and Head of Research & Development at Shamir Medical Center. “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.”
Years of research led to an “advanced understanding of HBOT’s ability to restore brain function,” added co-author Dr. Amir Hadanny of the Sagol Center.
Efrati and Hadanny designed the study based on a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) protocol developed at the Sagol Center over the past 10 years.
“In the past, 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,” Hadanny said. “This landmark research could have a far-reaching impact on the way we view the aging process and the ability to treat its symptoms.”
During HBOT, the patient breaths in 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, the researchers explained. The added oxygen stimulates the release of growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing. HBOT has been applied worldwide mostly to treat chronic non-healing wounds, the researchers noted.
There is a growing body of evidence on the regenerative effects of HBOT, they add. The researchers demonstrated that the combined action of delivering high levels of oxygen (hyperoxia) and pressure (hyperbaric environment) leads to significant improvement in tissue oxygenation while targeting both oxygen and pressure sensitive genes, resulting in restored and enhanced tissue metabolism. These targeted genes induce stem cell proliferation, reduce inflammation, and induce the generation of new blood vessels and tissue repair mechanisms, according to the researchers.
“The occlusion of small blood vessels, similar to the occlusions which may develop in the pipes of an ‘aging’ home, is a dominant element in the human aging process. This led us to speculate that HBOT may affect brain performance of the aging population,” Efrati said.
“We found that HBOT induced a significant increase in brain blood flow, which correlated with cognitive improvement, confirming our theory. One can conjecture that similar beneficial effect of HBOT can be induced in other organs of the aging body. These will be investigated in our upcoming research.”
The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Aging.
Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv