Scientists Discover Oxygen Restriction May Prolong Lifespan

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have made a groundbreaking discovery suggesting that living in a state of hypoxia, with low oxygen levels in the body tissue, could potentially extend lifespans. The study, published in PLOS Biology, focused on fast-aging mice and revealed that those living in a state of “chronic hypoxia” with 11% oxygen had a 50% longer lifespan and experienced delayed neurologic decline compared to mice living in normal oxygen levels of 21%.

Oxygen Restriction

This study is the first of its kind to explore the benefits of oxygen restriction in extending lifespan in mammals. Previous research had already demonstrated that oxygen restriction could increase the lifespan of yeast, worms, and fruit flies.

Co-author of the paper, Robert Rogers, emphasized the significance of this finding, stating, “While caloric restriction is the most widely effective and well-studied intervention to increase lifespan and health span, this is the first time that oxygen restriction has been demonstrated as beneficial in a mammalian aging model.”

During the study, researchers divided the rapidly aging mice into two groups at four weeks of age. One group was exposed to 11% oxygen to induce hypoxia, while the other group received the usual 21% oxygen. The mice living with reduced oxygen had a lifespan of 23.6 weeks, compared to the average lifespan of 15.7 weeks in the group breathing normal oxygen.

Although these findings are promising for rodents, scientists caution that it is uncertain whether the same benefits would apply to humans. One hypothesis suggests that oxygen-restriction therapy would need to commence at a young age to be effective.

The researchers acknowledge the need for further investigation before the potential benefits of oxygen restriction can be fully understood. They state, “Our initial findings establish oxygen restriction as a potential aging intervention, motivating the search for underlying mechanisms and generalizability to other mammalian models.” They also suggest exploring more practical approaches to inducing hypoxia, such as intermittent hypoxia or a moderate degree of hypoxia with 17% oxygen.

The paper highlights past epidemiologic evidence supporting the theory, citing studies in Bolivia that demonstrated a higher prevalence of nonagenarians and centenarians at high altitudes. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that individuals living at higher altitudes in states like Utah and Colorado had longer lifespans compared to those living at sea level.

While more research is needed to fully grasp the potential benefits of oxygen restriction, this groundbreaking study opens new avenues for understanding the aging process and could potentially lead to innovative interventions in the future.

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