Oxygen Therapy May Help Slow the Development of Alzheimer’s

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, there are some treatments that can help patients manage their symptoms, as well as some activities that may slow the disease’s onset or progression. New research out of Israel says there may be another weapon we can bring to the fight.

A team from Tel Aviv University has used hyperbaric oxygen therapy to improve cognitive function in humans and reverse precursors of Alzheimer’s in mice. They say this is the first time a non-drug therapy has been shown to prevent biological processes that lead to the development of the disease. The study was published in the journal Aging.

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Professor Uri Ashery, co-lead investigator, says, “After a series of hyperbaric treatments, elderly patients who were already suffering from memory loss showed an improvement of blood flow to the brain, as well as a real improvement in cognitive performance.”

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy was first used to treat decompression illness in divers. It involves patients breathing 100% oxygen in a chamber with high atmospheric pressure. Its use has expanded to other areas, including the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning and infections that deprive tissues of oxygen. It has been shown to repair damaged brain tissue and renew growth of blood vessels and nerve cells in the brain. That’s what led the team to think about a possible application to Alzheimer’s.

Researchers first tested the therapy on mice, finding that it helped prevent the formation of amyloid plaques, which are associated with Alzheimer’s. It also helped remove some amyloid plaque deposits.

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After the animal trial, the team tested the therapy with six patients over the age of 60, all of whom were in worsening stages of cognitive function that often come before Alzheimer’s. After 60 treatments spread over 90 days, the patients saw an average 16.5% improvement in memory and an increased blood flow of 16-23%. There were also improvements found in concentration and information processing speed.

Despite the small sample size and the fact that it still needs to be tested on Alzheimer’s patients, the team hopes these findings will open up a new and effective way to address the disease.

Ashery told The Times of Israel, “I don’t think this can ‘cure’ Alzheimer’s in humans, but it may be able to significantly slow its progression and severity. Further studies are needed, but people could possibly start benefiting from this in just a few years.”

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