Biological Aging Process Reversed In 'Holy Grail' Study, Scientists Say

Author Philip Roth once wrote that "old age isn't a battle. It's a massacre." It's obvious when you think about it.

Although people have been living longer, and staying fitter while doing so than ever thanks to increasing focus on diet, exercise, and all kinds of lifestyle choices, time is always going to win. You moisturize, stay hydrated, do yoga and tai chi, go for walks, eat kale and overnight oats, and it all helps, to be sure. But, fight it all you want, time holds all the cards and all the ailments it brings tend to gang up on you.

Of course, that hasn't stopped scientists from looking for better ways to hold off that massacre. Now, researchers at Tel Aviv University say they've come up with a method that really does turn back the clock.

The key to reversing aging is as simple as breathing, according to the scientists' study.

Well, it's both simple and not at the same time. For their study, the researchers tried treating aging as a disease, with the cure being a regimen of oxygen — or more accurately a lack thereof — treatments inside a pressure chamber.

Over the course of three months, the researchers had 35 healthy individuals over the age of 64 sit in a hyperbaric chamber three times a week, during which the researchers would briefly trigger periods of oxygen deprivation, theorizing that it would stimulate cellular regeneration.

Aging, of course, doesn't just show up on our faces and in our hair.

It's apparent on a cellular level as well. For their study, the researchers focused on two particular measures of aging: telomere length and accumulation senescent cells.

Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, and as people get older, their telomeres shorten. Senescent cells, meanwhile, are simply old cells that have stopped dividing as a means of preventing things like cancer or organ and tissue deterioration.

The theory was that the hyperbaric oxygen treatments would at least slow down or stop the shortening of the telomeres and the accumulation of senescent cells in the participants.

Indeed, the hyperbaric treatments showed remarkable promise.

Throughout the course of the study, the participants refrained from making any lifestyle changes like taking on a new diet or starting a new exercise routine to ensure that any biological changes would be attributable to the treatments.

Blood samples showed that over the course of the study, the time in the hyperbaric chamber was well spent. Not only did those markers of aging slow down, but the effects reversed. The participants' telomeres grew by an average of up to 38%, while the percentage of senescent cells dropped by up to 37%. That's the state the participants' bodies would have been in 25 years earlier, the researchers reported.

These are the kinds of results researchers only dream of.

"Today telomere shortening is considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of the biology of aging," said the study's lead, professor Shai Efrati, in a statement. "Researchers around the world are trying to develop pharmacological and environmental interventions that enable telomere elongation. Our HBOT protocol was able to achieve this, proving that the aging process can in fact be reversed at the basic cellular-molecular level."

And this isn't the first time hyperbaric treatments have been shown to help with healing.

"For many years our team has been engaged in hyperbaric research and therapy – treatments based on protocols of exposure to high-pressure oxygen at various concentrations inside a pressure chamber," Efrati said. "Our achievements over the years included the improvement of brain functions damaged by age, stroke or brain injury."

Read the whole study in the journal Aging.

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