SHA introduces the Intermittent Hypoxia Therapy: an innovative treatment backed by a Nobel Prize in Medicine

Potentiating the adaptive benefits activating cells when faced with hypoxia (the drop in oxygen supply) is the mechanism underlying Intermittent Hypoxia Therapy, which has just been added to the treatment portfolio at SHA Wellness Clinic and benefits sports performance, insomnia, and weight and glucose control. 

In 2019, Drs Peter J. Ratcliffe, Gregg L. Semenza, and William G. Kaelin were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of how cells adapt to oxygen needs and the benefits this brings.  The objective of the Intermittent Hypoxia Therapy offered at SHA Wellness Clinic is to activate these adaptive processes in the organism, provoking, in a controlled manner, intermittent cycles of low and high oxygen availability.

The treatment consists in alternating air inhalation at low oxygen levels (hypoxia) with air inhalation at higher oxygen levels (hyperoxia). With this strategy, the body triggers physiological responses with positive impacts on various organs and systems, which is beneficial for health and for delaying ageing.

In 30-40 minute sessions, the patient is connected to a machine and breathes through a mask covering the nose and mouth. To monitor the procedure, a device is attached to him or her to measure blood saturation at all times. With this therapy, the person is first subjected to low-oxygen breathing cycles, where the saturation can be reduced progressively by up to 20%, after which he or she is subjected to a high-oxygen breathing cycle to recover.

Three sessions per week are recommended, on alternate days. The feeling is relaxed and pleasant, many patients fall asleep during the therapy. However, the cellular benefits are equivalent to those of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular activity. In fact, after the therapy, strenuous physical training is not recommended, but brisk walking and returning to normal activities.

What happens inside the body when oxygen deficiency is detected?

Dr. Anna Baeza, head of Medical Services and Natural Therapies at SHA Wellness Clinic, explains that the body activates several beneficial adaptive reactions, which are precisely the ones we want to replicate with this anti-ageing therapy, but in a controlled environment, with blood oxygen saturation measured at all times.

When oxygen drops, the respiratory rate and respiratory capacity increase. The heart pumps more blood, and the heart rate improves. Blood vessels dilate and the body becomes more efficient, as it has to perform equally well with less oxygen. This promotes a process called angiogenesis, which is the creation of new blood vessels,” explains Dr Baeza.

Weight control benefits

This therapy also has weight management benefits, as the intermittent cycles of hypoxia influence how the body breaks down carbohydrates to obtain energy. In addition, there is an increase in glucose transporters in the membrane and this increases cell energy. Furthermore, it improves the control of blood sugar after meals, and helps to keep it at healthy levels,“, explains the specialist.

Intermittent Hypoxia Therapy stimulates the production of red blood cells. This not only increases the oxygen carrying capacity, but also has an impact on the demand for iron and on blood viscosity. These changes are part of the body’s adaptation to improve its efficiency in delivering oxygen to the tissues.

Improved sports performance and muscle strength

The benefits of hypoxia-hyperoxia therapy reach every inch of the body. This treatment promotes greater muscle activity and efficiency by increasing oxidative activity, which is essential for energy in the muscle cells.

It also improves mitochondrial activity – mitochontdria are the power plants of the cells, and increases the content of myoglobin – a protein carrying oxygen in the muscles. In addition, the therapy induces changes in aerobic metabolism, which is the way muscles generate energy from oxygen.

These adjustments improve endurance and the ability of muscles to function efficiently for longer periods of time. Muscle fibres increase, suggesting that muscles may gain strength and mass as a result of the therapy. In short, it improves muscle efficiency for energy production and this translates into improved endurance and muscle capacity.

An effective treatment for insomnia

Dr Baeza points out that one of the quickest and most surprising benefits of this therapy is that it helps people suffering from insomnia to sleep. “The drop in oxygen makes you sleepy, this therapy causes a relaxing vasodilatation. There is also a noticeable improvement in chronic fatigue“.

This therapy could be beneficial for almost everyone. People suffering from any pathology can benefit from the hypoxic adaptive mechanisms to fight their disease and healthy people have a novel anti-ageing tool at their disposal, backed by solid scientific evidence.

The only cases in which the therapy would be contraindicated, says Dr Baeza, would be patients with poorly controlled cardiac and respiratory problems, cases of an acute infection with fever, people with epilepsy or suffering from chronic decompensated diseases, and pregnant women.

Anti-ageing therapy backed by a Nobel Prize winner The theoretical foundation on which hypoxia-hyperoxia therapy is based is the research into cellular mechanisms for adaptation to low oxygen availability, which deserved the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2019.

SHA Wellness Clinic has proven once again its willingness to be at the forefront of research and to offer its patients safe and advanced therapies to improve their quality of life, their health, and slow down the ageing process.