A strange throughline that biologists see among the different species of the world is that animals that tend to require fewer breaths per minute live longer. Tortoises can live up to 150 years, and only take three or four breaths a minute. By contrast, humans 12 to 16 breaths per minute, and the average American has an average lifespan between 76 and 77 years.
In the search to make our bodies live longer ,, many are beginning to promote oxygen restriction (also known as hypoxia) as a possible solution. Clinical researchers have begun to investigate this phenomenon in the laboratory. This has mostly been confined to New Age circles. With the effects of calorie restriction on increased lifespan well documented by new research these days, scientists are eager to see if other limitations actually end up boosting longevity as well.
Scientists at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have published what seems to be the first ever study that demonstrates how hypoxia can lead to long lifespans in mammals. The new findings were published Tuesday in PLOS Biology.
“We were excited about the idea that hypoxia might be helpful and we wanted to test it rigorously,” Robert Rogers said, co-author and researcher of The Daily Beast’s new study. “But we had no assumptions that it would actually work.”
The study builds off previous research led by co-author Vamsi Mootha, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School, who had been studying the effects of oxygen restriction in mice for over a decade. Ambient oxygen levels for most life on Earth is around 21 percent. Mootha’s lab first found that restricting oxygen to about 11 percent helped extend lifespan and delayed degeneration of brain cells in mice afflicted by Leigh syndrome (a severe neurological disorder) in 2016, and in mice afflicted by Friedreich’s ataxia (a genetic disorder affecting the nerves) in 2019.
Based on those observations as well as what’s been observed in more primitive organisms like yeast and roundworms, the team wanted to see what chronic hypoxia could do for healthy mammals.
As part of the study, Rogers, Mootha, and their colleagues bred mice in environments of normal oxygen levels (21 percent), and compared their lifespans to mice who at 4 weeks of age were moved to environments with reduced oxygen (about 11 percent–similar to an altitude of about a little over 3 miles).
The mice in reduced oxygen environments lived a whopping 50 percent longer, with media lifespans of 23. 6 weeks compared to the other cohort’s 15. 7 weeks. Hypoxia also seemed to delay age-associated neurodegenerative impairments.
“At the moment, we don’t know how hypoxia prolongs life in mice,” Rogers confessed. Though caloric restriction has a longer body of research behind it, oxygen restriction is still a new space, and more research will be necessary to really pinpoint the mechanisms that allow hypoxia to increase lifespan in animals. These investigations are likely to lead to a greater understanding of what occurs in the body to promote healthy aging, and not just a prescription for people to be hooked up to tanks with reduced oxygen.
Moreover, Rogers cautioned against trying to speculate what the results could mean for human aging. He did highlight an interesting tidbit of research from the 1960s and 70s, when Indian Army soldiers assigned to serve three years at altitudes higher than three miles saw decreased incidence of age-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease. The new results seem in accordance with what we have observed so far in humans. Rogers said, “We see this report as the basis for future research in this area.”
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to increase your oxygen intake in an attempt to prolong life. Oxygen is essential to survival, and deprivation can do incredible damage to the body and its organs–often permanently. So leave the lifespan hacks to the researchers for now.
The post Can an Oxygen Hack Lead to Longer Lifespans? appeared first on The Daily Beast.