Biological time machine already, for the rich: Everything you need to know about hyperbaric chambers

If you were told there was a way to de-age yourself, recover from an injury faster, and reverse the effects of Covid, you would be forgiven for being skeptical. 

But hyperbaric chamber therapy shows that those effects aren’t too far fetched. The therapy involves lying in pressurized oxygen machine for one to two hours and breathing in 100 percent pure oxygen, which helps repair and replace damaged cells. 

The problem, however, is the price. A few weeks of sessions can cost upwards of $50,000. 

The centuries-old practice recently burst through mainstream sports, with elite athletes such as soccer player Vinicius Junior and basketball legend LeBron James using the technology to speed up recovery from injuries or swelling. 

But it’s not just popular among the rich and famous. It turns out, more and more average people are spending thousands to slow the aging process.

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers can increase air pressure to 17 times the normal level

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers can increase air pressure to 17 times the normal level

HBOT can be performed in single chambers or in large rooms with other participants

HBOT can be performed in single chambers or in large rooms with other participants 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves breathing 100 percent pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. The air we breathe every day is just 21 percent oxygen, in comparison. 

The air pressure inside is then gradually raised to higher-than-normal levels. In some chambers, it can get up to 17 times higher.

‘When you breathe oxygen in a pressurized environment, that can increase the concentration of oxygen that’s delivered to your cells and to different tissue in the body,’ Dr Mohammed Elamir, a lead physician at the Aviv Clinics in central Florida, told DailyMail.com. 

Oxygen helps cells perform vital abilities, such as breaking down food for energy. It also helps repair and replace damaged cells, which in turn helps the body heal. 

In Dr Elamir’s clinic, patients stand in multiplex chambers that can fit up to 14 people. They then wear masks with 100 percent pure oxygen for 20 minutes at a time. 

‘That pressure is equivalent to diving 33 feet under sea level,’ Dr Elamir said. 

You could also do the treatment in an individual chamber.  

Increasing oxygen levels triggers stem cell production and the growth of blood vessels in the brain. This helps tissues heal and the body fight off certain infections. 

Soccer player Vinicius Junior became the latest sports star to show off their use of HBOT

Soccer player Vinicius Junior became the latest sports star to show off their use of HBOT

Basketball sensation LeBron James has been an avid user of oxygen chambers in recent years

Basketball sensation LeBron James has been an avid user of oxygen chambers in recent years

Early research suggests that regularly stepping inside these chambers could stop, and even reverse, the effects of aging on skin.  

A 2020 clinical trial from Tel Aviv University and the Shamir Medical Center in Israel, for example, found that HBOT helped stop blood cells aging, reversing the aging process. Blood cells even became younger as the treatments progressed. 

The researchers suggested that regular HBOT could significantly increase the length of telomeres. These are structures made from DNA sequences and proteins that are found at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes from becoming tangled and impact cell division. 

Dr Mohammed Elamir, a lead physician at Aviv Clinics in central Florida, said his clinic has seen about 500 people since opening in 2020

Dr Mohammed Elamir, a lead physician at Aviv Clinics in central Florida, said his clinic has seen about 500 people since opening in 2020

‘The problem is that aging process or that replication process can cause damage to the chromosome,’ Dr Elamir said. 

However, each time a cell divides, telomeres shorten until the cell dies. This process happens naturally with age, though lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, obesity, stress, smoking, and pollution, can harm telomere health. 

Telomere length has long been linked to longer lifespans. For example, research shows that people who live to be at least 100 and are relatively healthy have longer telomeres than centenarians in poor health. 

The shorter the telomere, the faster the body ages. Therefore, lengthening them, as the study indicates HBOT could do, could slow down the aging process. 

Additionally, a 2021 clinical trial published in the journal Aging found that participants who completed 60 days of HBOT targeted several parameters of skin aging. 

The treatment increased density of the protein collagen. As the body ages, it loses the ability to create collagen, resulting in wrinkles, join paint, papery skin, and slow injury recovery. 

‘The study indicates, for the first time in humans, that HBOT can significantly modulate the pathophysiology of the skin aging in a healthy aging population,’ the researchers wrote. 

However, the research is still early, and study authors have acknowledged their small sample sizes. 

There may be another use for a growing problem. 

A 2022 study examined the effects of HBOT on long Covid patients. Participants were 36 patients with cognitive symptoms such as brain fog. They reported reduced brain fog, improved memory and attention, more energy and less pain. 

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates roughly 23 million Americans are suffering from long Covid. 

However, the research team only observed the treatment’s effects for one to three weeks, so any long-lasting benefits are unclear.

The increase in oxygen can heal injuries and slow recovery time in athletes, some research suggests. This has led to many sports stars, like Tiger Woods, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Michael Phelps taking up the practice. 

HBOT isn’t FDA-approved for anti-aging, long Covid, or sports injuries, meaning that the costs will not be covered by insurance. 

Some estimates range from $250 to $600 per session. At Aviv, the smallest package is $10,500 for the smallest package, and the largest runs about $51,500. 

First discovered in 1662 in Britain, oxygen therapy has been used in the US since the early twentieth century. By the 1940s, it was a common treatment to treat decompression sickness in US Navy sailors. 

The FDA has approved the therapy for this purpose, as well as gas embolisms, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, gas gangrene, wounds, severe anemia, and skin grafts, among others. 

There are risks associated with the treatment. One common side effect is pressure in the ears, similar to when you’re on an airplane and need to pop your ears. 

‘Let’s say you’re pressurizing the first 10 minutes and you don’t pop your ears…you’re going to have pain in your ear and you’re going to have temporary damage to your eardrum,’ Dr Elamir said. ‘So to mitigate this before anybody goes into our chambers, we train them on how to pop their ears and equalize properly.’

Additionally, Dr Elamir said HBOT isn’t suitable for people with a history of seizures, those who are pregnant, and people who have previously had a collapsed lung.  

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