Every time a cell inside your body reproduces, a port of your youth collapses into the dust. This happens by reducing telomeres, structures that “cover” the ends of our chromosomes.
Now, scientists in Israel say they have been able to reverse this process and extend telomere length in a small study of 26 patients.
Participants sat in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for five 90-minute sessions per week for three months, and as a result, some of their cell telomeres expanded by up to 20 percent.
That’s an impressive claim – and something many other researchers have tried unsuccessfully in the past. But of course it is worth noting that this is a small sample size and the results will have to be repeated before we can be very excited.
However, the fact that hyperbaric oxygen therapy appears to affect telomere length is a fascinating link that deserves further investigation.
Lead researcher Shair Efrati, a physician from the Sagol School of Medicine and the School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, explained to ScienceAlert how the inspiration behind their experiment was somewhat out of this world.
“After the double experiment was performed by NASA, where one of the twins was sent into space and the other stayed on Earth, showing a significant difference in the length of their telomeres, we realized that changes in the external environment could affect the cell nucleus. which occur during aging, “Efrati said.
Telomeres repeat code pieces that act as the DNA equivalent of the plastic or metal braid covering the end of a string.
They replicate with the rest of the chromosomes whenever a cell divides. However, with each reproduction, tiny pieces of code from the edge of the sequence fail to make it into the new copy, leaving the freshly cut chromosome a touch shorter than its predecessor.
As anyone who has lost their shoelace knows, it does not take long for them to lose their integrity. Similarly, shorter telomeres place sequences below the chromosome at a higher risk of dangerous mutations.
These mutations coincide with the changes that predispose us to a number of age-related diseases, especially all diseases such as cancer.
This does not necessarily mean that we are getting older because our telomeres are shrinking, but there is a relationship between telomere length and health that researchers want to explore further.
“Longer telomeres are associated with better cellular performance,” Efriti explained.
There are many ways to accelerate the erosion of our telomeres. Sleep failure could do this, as it could reduce too much processed food, and maybe even have children.
Slowing down the loss requires a little more effort, but regular exercise and proper nutrition are healthy bets if you want your chromosomes to stay as long as possible.
A real achievement would be to completely reverse our chromosomal hourglass and restore lost telomere fragments. The fact that the high-functioning tissues that surround our gut do so naturally using an enzyme called telomerase has fueled research over the years.
There have been many milestones in trying to achieve this goal. Gene therapy in mice has shown that it may one day be possible in humans. More recently, a supercentric woman’s stem cells had completely repositioned their telomeres outside her body.
Some studies have found the chances of small increases, perhaps a few percent, with dietary supplements such as vitamin D.
But while there are many promises to reverse aging in living people already on the market, the reality of scientifically supported therapies we can use to give us the telomeres of a 20-year-old was derogatory.
That is why the latest study is attracting so much attention. Far from slightly two or three percent, this latest study found that telomeres in white blood cells taken from 26 people had recovered about one-fifth of their lost length.
The key, it seems, is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) – the absorption of pure oxygen while sitting in a pressure chamber for extended periods. in this case, five 90-minute sessions a week for three months.
HBOT has drawn controversy in the past over allegations that it could deal with a number of situations. It is usually the kind of treatment you would give to a diver who came out of the ocean very quickly or to kill oxygen-sensitive germs in a wound that simply would not heal otherwise.
But oxygen-rich environments are also behind a strange paradox, where the body desperately causes a host of genetic and molecular changes that usually occur at a low oxygen level.
In this study, the researchers were able to show that the genetic changes caused by HBOT have extended telomeres and also had a potentially positive effect on the health of the tissues themselves.
A slightly smaller sample of volunteers also showed a significant reduction in the number of aging T cells, tissues that are a vital part of our immune system’s targeted response to invaders.
Whether you would do it in a small tank every day for a quarter of a year is a matter of preference, but future research could help make the whole process a touch more effective, at least for some.
“Once we demonstrate reverse aging in the study group using a predefined HBOT protocol, further studies are needed to optimize this protocol per person,” Efrati told ScienceAlert.
In a press release from The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research, Efrati says that understanding telomere reduction is considered the “Holy Grail” of the biology of aging.
As important as telomere shrinkage is, the failure of our biology as we grow older is undoubtedly a complex issue involving far more than the missing chromosome fragments.
Reactivating telomerase is also a trick used by cancers to stay ahead of the growth curve, making this sacred chalice a potentially poisoned chalice that we need to better understand before we drink too much.
Fascinatingly, such research will help us develop a better picture of the aging process.
This research was published in Aging.