Treating Alzheimer’s using Oxygen Therapy, study finds

09/10/2021

Alzheimer's is known to be the common reason for dementia in the elderly. It might develop because of genetic or non-genetic factors. Genetic factors include the mutation in beta-amyloid precursor proteins and others, whereas non-genetic aspects relate to diabetes, cardiovascular, or other health issues. 

One of the characteristics of Alzheimer's is the building up of plaque in the brain. However, recent studies by Israeli scientists on animal models have shown that oxygen therapy slows down plaque growth. The study has been recently published. 

The researchers at Tel Aviv University have devoted several years to studying the alleged anti-aging potential treatment using a pressurized or hyperbaric chamber. It involves inhaling pure oxygen for a specified time. The results from a recent study have indicated the promising effect of oxygen therapy in animal models that reportedly boost brain function and help fight plaque build-up in correlation to Alzheimer's. The study was published in the journal Aging in 2018. 

What is Alzheimer's? 

Alzheimer's disease can't be taken as a regular part of Aging. It usually doesn't affect patients under the age of 65. Though the memory loss in the early stages is mild, as the disease progresses, the ability of the patient to engage in normal conversation is impeded. It leads to interruptions in managing daily life activities. 

Alzheimer's is associated with the brain. It causes damage to brain cells through the formation of plaques and tangles. Plaques are depositions of beta-amyloid protein fragments that grow between the nerve cells. On the other hand, plaques are twisted fibers of tau protein. Plaques build up inside the cells. At the early stages, plaques and tangles begin to grow in the part of the brain that is associated with memory and later progress to other areas. Plaques and tangles interrupt the regular communication between nerve cells. This ultimately leads to the death of brain cells, followed by memory loss. Unfortunately, the option for treating or slowing down the progression of Alzheimer's is currently unavailable. 

Traditional approaches for treating Alzheimer

The traditional method for treating Alzheimer's is improving cognitive abilities and providing a safe environment for the patient. Generally, two types of drugs: Cholinesterase inhibitor and memantine, are used to enhance cognitive functions. Cholinesterase inhibitors lessen neuropsychiatric symptoms by boosting communication between cells. However, memantine works by slowing the disease progression.

In addition to this, other treatment options that focus on a safe environment and care by close friends or family to avoid accidents are also considered for Alzheimer's patients. However, a safe environment might be challenging to maintain while taking care of patients. 

Treating Alzheimer with Hyperbaric oxygen therapy HBOT 

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is a well-established approach that is used to treat various neurological conditions. It involves an enhanced supply of oxygen to brain tissues, thus protecting neurons and brain cells.  

Following epidemiological data of 2005, 4.6 million new cases of dementia are reported annually, and around 24.2 million individuals have dementia globally. According to estimates, the number will hike to 81 million people affected by 2040. Of these 81 million, 70% are AD patients. Furthermore, with the progression in age, the social and economic burden posed by Alzheimer's is considered to increase. 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can deliver 100% oxygen. It provides oxygen at increased air pressure. The increased pressure accounts for the maximum supply of oxygen to blood, cells, and tissues of the body. Since Alzheimer's is related to abnormalities in the brain, detailed investigations have shown that increasing the supply of oxygen to body parts might have positive results. 

They researched at Tel Aviv University on transgenic mice that were engineered to develop Alzheimer's. Mice were administered with HBOT sessions daily over two weeks. The findings indicated that reportedly reduced oxygen starvation and inflammation in the brain. Moreover, amyloid plaques and tau tangles were considerably decreased. In addition, observable changes in behavioral symptoms of mice. The findings were published in 2018.

It has been acknowledged that if hyperbaric therapy is conducted in the early stages of Alzheimer's, it might produce better outcomes. The basic idea behind this approach is to target the disease before it renders permanent damage to brain cells. 

Some insights from the recent study regarding oxygen therapy

In this study, fifteen genetically modified mice were used. The mice were programmed to imitate the degeneration associated with Alzheimer's. As a result, the study reported reduced plaque formation whereas eliminated some of the amyloid plaque deposits. According to medical professionals, amyloids are non-soluble proteins associated with severe degeneration in Alzheimer's patients.

The control group of similar animal models reported plaque formation since they were deprived of oxygen therapy. Many more amyloid plaques appeared in the control group. Compared to the control group, the mice from the experimental group presented with oxygen therapy, just one-third of the number of new plaques appeared. In contrast, it reduced existing plaques to almost half of their original size. Generally, the blood flow towards the brain is reported to decrease in Alzheimer's. At the same time, this study reported an improved blood flow to the mice brain.

Additionally, six people of age 60 who were experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline were also monitored by Ashery's team. This part of the study was conducted at Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research. The results from this research indicated an improved blood flow by over 20 percent. Sixty sessions were arranged for oxygen therapy. They were conducted for 90 days. On average,  reported an improvement in memory test of around 16.5%. When the patients are placed in a pressurized chamber, hypoxia is achieved with degenerating effects. The pressurized chambers allow for the maximum dissolving of oxygen in tissues.

Although the size of the human study was small, the results highlight the benefits associated with Alzheimer's in patients who experience loss of cognitive abilities either before or after the onset of illness—reflected Similar results like the mice study in this small clinical trial. However, the justification and claims require research.

Experts' opinion on HOBT

Prof. Uri Ashery, the lead author of the research published in the journal Aging, said that in his opinion, these findings might not be an indication of a possible cure in the case of humans. Still, we might be able to slow down the disease progression as well as its severity. However, the findings and results require further investigation. Though initial findings help retrieve benefits in the upcoming years. 

According to the journal aging, hyperbaric oxygen therapy presents a multi-dimensional neurological effect. It has been shown to improve brain function as well as cognition in humans. The current findings have suggested that HBOT is the therapeutic approach established to enhance the pathophysiology of the disease. In addition, it has been shown to slow down disease progression.  

The approval for treatment requires extensive clinical studies and trials. Unfortunately, at the moment, few hospitals are equipped with HBOT. This indicates that current healthcare setups can't cater to a large number of patients with Alzheimer's. 

Tom Dening is a professor of Dementia Research at Nottingham University. He told Daily Telegraph that for the treatment to be helpful, it must continue indefinitely. This requires the patients to be proactive and diligent enough to achieve the desired results. Suppose we estimate that the number of Alzheimer's patients in the UK will approach one million in the future. In that case, it is hard to conceive how hyperbaric treatment options could be available on such a massive scale. Briefly, the idea is appealing, but it requires a long-term assessment before its approval as a standard treatment. 

A recent study regarding the use of oxygen therapy has drawn varied responses from experts. An Alzheimer scholar from the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Dr. Deborah Toiber, remarked that treatment and therapies that deal with cognitive decline could be promising in the future. Though the findings convince some experts that using oxygen therapy reduces plaques and thus counter Alzheimer's, she is confused.

Future perspective

Plaques are considered as a dead end. Furthermore, the data and evidence gained through research are not enough to portray whether reducing or eliminating plaques will decrease the severity of the progression of the disease.  

Ashery and his team have used an oxygen therapy protocol proclaimed by past studies. Previously oxygen therapy was used to improve the brain's biology in human models. Additionally, it has also been studied for reversing Aging by introducing changes in human blood cells associated explicitly with Aging.

Conclusion

To conclude, the form of dementia associated with mild memory loss is known as Alzheimer's. In severe cases, the disease progresses towards complete memory loss. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 5 million people with Alzheimer's disease were reported in the US in 2014. It comprises about 60 to 80 million total dementia cases. 

Currently, no cure or approved treatment for treating Alzheimer's is available. However, the findings from recent research have shown some promising results as treatment options for patients with Alzheimer's. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment therapy that enriches the oxygen supply to body cells, tissue, and blood. HBOT was first conducted on engineered mice. Mice were engineered for developing symptoms of Alzheimer's. Reduction in size of plaques and improvement in cognition has been shown. Further investigations and detailed insights will hopefully be beneficial for patients with Alzheimer's.