The aging process has been biologically reversed for the first time by giving humans oxygen therapy in a pressurized chamber.
Scientists in Israel showed they could turn back the clock in two key areas of the body believed to be responsible for the frailty and ill-health that comes with growing older.
As people age, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes – called telomeres – shorten, causing DNA to become damaged and cells to stop replicating. At the same time, "zombie" senescent cells build up in the body, preventing regeneration.
Increasing telomere length and getting rid of senescent cells is the focus of many anti-ageing studies, and drugs are being developed to target those areas. Telomeres are structures located at the ends of our chromosomes. Although they contain no genetic information themselves, they preserve the integrity of chromosomes by keeping their ends from fraying, much as shoelace tips protect the laces. Telomeres become shorter and less effective over time as chromosomes replicate. Scientists view them as markers of an individual’s biological age at a cellular level.
Now scientists at Tel Aviv University have shown that giving pure oxygen to older people while in a hyperbaric chamber increased the length of their telomeres by 20 per cent, a feat that has never been achieved before. Scientists said the growth may mean that the telomeres of trial participants were now as long as they had been 25 years earlier.
The therapy also reduced senescent cells by up to 37 per cent, making way for new healthy cells to regrow. Animal studies have shown that removing senescent cells extends remaining life by more than one third. "Since telomere shortening is considered the 'Holy Grail' of the biology of ageing, many pharmacological and environmental interventions are being extensively explored in the hopes of enabling telomere elongation," said Professor Shai Efrati of the Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University.
"The significant improvement of telomere length shown during and after these unique protocols provides the scientific community with a new foundation of understanding that ageing can indeed be targeted and reversed at the basic cellular-biological level."
Many scientists now believe aging itself is responsible for major conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
It is also known that obesity, smoking, lack of physical activity, vitamin deficiency and inflammation can speed up the shortening of telomeres, demonstrating that they have a major impact on longevity.
The trial included 35 healthy independent adults aged 64 and older who did not undergo any lifestyle, diet or medication adjustments. Each patient was placed in a hyperbaric chamber for 90 minutes for five days a week over three months while breathing 100 per cent oxygen through a mask.
"Until now, interventions such as lifestyle modifications and intense exercise were shown to have some inhibition effect on the expected telomere length shortening," said Dr Amir Hadanny, chief medical research officer of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research. Previous trials have shown that eating a healthy diet can preserve telomere length, while high-intensity training for six months has been proven to lengthen telomeres by up to five per cent.
Diet and Aging
New research indicates that eating ultra-processed foods is linked to the accelerated shortening of telomeres and cell aging. The researchers, from the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, presented their findings at this year’s European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) in September. The findings also feature in a study paper in The Americal Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The consumption of ultra-processed foods, or UPFs, is on the rise worldwide. UPFs are manufactured food products comprising the building blocks of naturally occurring foods: protein isolates, sugars, fats, and oils. However, while their components are often extracted from natural sources, UPFs ultimately contain no, or very little, in the way of whole foods. The companies that produce UPFs often add flavorings and emulsifiers for taste, as well as colorings and other cosmetic additives to achieve the desired appearance. UPFs are nutritionally poor and often unbalanced.
The researchers also made a number of general observations regarding those who consumed more than 3 servings of UPFs per day. These people:
were more likely to have diabetes, a family history of cardiovascular disease, and abnormal blood fats under their skin
were the participants most likely to snack between meals
consumed less protein, carbohydrate, fiber, fruit, vegetables, olive oil, and other micronutrients
Individuals who ate more UPFs were less likely to adhere to a healthful Mediterranean diet. In exchange, they consumed more fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, sodium, sugar-sweetened beverages, cholesterol, fast food, and processed meats.
Exercise and aging
A new study published in the journal European Heart Journal says when it comes down to the anti-aging effects of exercise, cardio is best. Endurance exercise–like running, swimming, or bicycling–and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) both slowed signs of aging compared to lifting weights–at least on the cellular level.
Here’s how the study went down: A team of German researchers divided 124 healthy but inactive adults between the ages of 30 and 60 into four groups. One group carried on with their non-existent exercise routines. The other three sweated it out for 45-minute sessions three times a week for 26 weeks.
The endurance training group walked or ran continuously. The HIIT group completed a warmup, four rounds alternating between faster and slower running, and a cool down. The resistance training group used eight different strength-training machines to complete a circuit of exercises including seated chest presses, lat pulldowns, and leg presses.
At the end of the study, people in both the endurance training and the HIIT groups had experienced anti-aging effects of their workouts, while the inactive and resistance training groups did not. Those turn-back-the-clock effects were measured at the cellular level, by examining white blood cells from blood taken before the start of the study and days after the final exercise session.
In those cells from runners and HIIT-ers, researchers noted two important changes: Their telomeres–the caps at the ends of chromosomes–lengthened, and telomerase–an enzyme involved in maintaining those caps–increased. These effects “are both important for cellular aging, regenerative capacity, and thus, healthy aging,” study author Ulrich Laufs, MD, of Leipzig University in Germany, said in a statement.
Telomeres naturally shrink over time, and as they do, cells die instead of continuing to divide. Cell death is bad news not just for wrinkles and gray hair, but for risk of age-related health concerns like heart disease, cognitive decline, and even early death.
So what was it about endurance and HIIT workouts that could stave off that shrinkage? The researchers hypothesize that those types of exercise affected levels of nitric oxide in the blood. Since nitric oxide increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, it could in turn have affected the cell changes found in these two groups of participants.
This isn’t the first study to link exercise to telomere length. A team from Brigham Young University found that adults who jogged for 30 to 40 minutes five times a week had telomeres as long as those of people who were 9 years younger than them, for example. And HIIT workouts have been previously linked with additional anti-aging cellular changes. The new study, however, is thought to be the largest ever to directly compare the anti-aging effects on telomeres of different types of exercise.
However, according to an accompanying editorial published alongside the study, this research doesn't necessarily mean one workout or the other is better for your physical fitness. “The authors reported that changes in telomere length were not associated with changes in cardiorespiratory fitness,” write the editorial authors, of Newcastle University in the UK. Further studies are needed, they say, to clearly understand the link between telomere length, telomerase activity, and disease prevention.
In the meantime, don’t go giving up your strength sessions. These results fall nicely in line with common exercise recommendations.
The pressurized chamber allows more oxygen to be dissolved into the tissues and mimics a state of "hypoxia", or oxygen shortage, which is known to have regenerating effects.
"However, what is remarkable to note in our study is that, in just three months of therapy, we were able to achieve such significant telomere elongation – at rates far beyond any of the current available interventions or lifestyle modifications.
"With this pioneering study, we have opened a door for further research on the prolonged cellular impact of the therapy to reverse the ageing process. After dedicating our research to exploring its impact on the areas of brain functionality and age-related cognitive decline, we have now uncovered, for the first time in humans, biological effects at the cellular level in healthy ageing adults."
The research was published in the journal Aging.
150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week, as well as at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity.
That's 30-60 minutes per day, 5 times per week. If you are not doing this level of activity, you are considered sedentary.