Scientists Just Extended the Lifespan of Lab Mice By Giving Them Less Oxygen
Less may be more when it comes to aging.
For those who want to live forever, there’s no shortage of research looking tirelessly for that elusive pause button. Pharmaceutical drugs currently on the market, like metformin, are already showing some progress. But here’s one you might not have expected: oxygen restriction.
According to a study published Tuesday in the journal PLoS Biology, while it may seem counterintuitive, breathing less of the essential element we need to survive may extend our twilight years, at least in mice.
Researchers in Boston found that when mice engineered to age faster were placed into a low-oxygen environment, they lived weeks longer than their not-oxygen-deprived buddies.
“While caloric restriction is the most widely effective and well-studied intervention to increase lifespan and healthspan, this is the first time that ‘oxygen restriction’ has been demonstrated as beneficial in a mammalian aging model,” Robert Rogers, first author of the study and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a press release.
Oxygen restriction, also known as hypoxia (where levels of oxygen are lower than usual), has been shown to delay the aging process in different cells and organisms. For example, a touch of hypoxia seems to allow mice and human cells to party longer before turning old and calling it quits. Even lowly yeast and worms seem to get a lifespan boost from this oxygen-deprived state.
In the new study, the researchers took four-week-old mice engineered to age faster and placed them in a low-oxygen environment similar to what humans might experience at Everest Base Camp. These mice lived 50 percent longer — a whopping 23.6 weeks of vibrant mousy life instead of the meager 15.7 weeks — than regular mice at the normal 21 percent atmospheric oxygen. They also managed to stave off age-related neurological issues as if hitting the pause button on the brain’s ticking age clock.
Will this work in humans? It’s still too early to tell. Scientists are still trying to understand what exactly hypoxia does to the body that’s so conducive to longevity. In addition to that, it would be helpful to see whether the benefits of oxygen restriction are additive, synergistic, or antagonistic when compared to the proven effective dietary restriction.