Double-Blind Controlled Study on Effects of HBOT on Physical Performance of Middle-Aged Athletes

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a treatment that helps heal the body using chambers with high-pressure oxygen. HBOT repairs damaged tissues by increasing oxygen intake and providing 100% pure oxygen.
This treatment can boost individual performance levels, but—until now—it hasn’t been put to the test with a placebo-controlled clinical trial. The effects of HBOT on physical performance have yet to be evaluated.
Between May 2018 and December 2020, a team of doctors and healthcare specialists researched HBOT and how it affects physical performance using a double-blind controlled study. This study aimed to determine the effects of intermittent hyperbaric oxygen therapy on physical performance and mitochondrial function in 40-to-50-year-old athletes.

About the Subjects for the Clinical Trial

For this clinical trial, 37 top-tier athletes enrolled. Subjects had to match the following criteria to participate:

between the ages of 40 and 50

perform moderate-to-high aerobic sports for their age group at least four times per week

not suffer from any musculoskeletal injuries within the past three months

not have received HBOT treatment within the past three months for any reason

not have any of the following: debilitating lung, middle, or inner ear pathologies, claustrophobia, chronic illness, chronic medications, or active smoking habits

These 37 subjects underwent 40 repeated sessions of either HBOT or SHAM during this two-year study. Meanwhile, they continued their regular exercise and workout routines without alteration.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Its Effects on Mitochondrial Respiration

Of the 37 athletes enrolled in the study, 30 agreed to get muscle biopsies. Five biopsies failed the respiration analysis quality control test. After receiving their first biopsy, three athletes refused to get a second one and could not complete a proper evaluation.

The remaining subjects (10 from the HBOT group and 12 from the SHAM group) received a mitochondrial respiration assessment and an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA).

Using HBOT, doctors evaluated mitochondrial respiration by taking fine-needle biopsy muscle samples from the gluteus maximus. These biopsies occurred a week or two before intervention and one to two weeks after intervention. The Oroboros® Oxygraph-2 K helped measure mitochondrial respiration.

Through careful observation, analysis, and muscle biopsies, the research team concluded the following about HBOT and its effects:

  • Maximal oxygen phosphorylation capacity increased significantly compared to SHAM sessions with a 1.085 (0.129–2.041) effect size. Maximal uncoupled capacity also increased significantly compared to SHAM sessions, with an effect size of 0.956 (0.013–1.898).
  • After HBOT, mitochondrial complex I function increased with a 1.120 (0.160–2.080) effect size.
  • No notable changes occurred in mitochondrial complex II uncoupled capacity.
  • The proton leak rate had no marked change.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Its Effects on Mitochondrial Mass

Of the 22 athletes who underwent mitochondrial respiration assessment and ANCOVA, doctors evaluated mitochondrial mass in 12 (six from the HBOT group and six from the SHAM group). After completing HBOT, the results showed the following:

  • Mitochondrial mass marker MTG increased significantly compared to SHAM sessions (17.12% ± 20.2 versus −8.54 ± 8.41).
  • Biogenesis marker PGC1alpha didn’t change significantly.
  • No notable changes occurred in fusion markers OPA1 and MNF1 + 2.

Overall Effects of HBOT on Physical Performance

In terms of the effects of HBOT on physical performance, doctors made several important discoveries. The study shows that HBOT can give elite athletes an edge by breathing better than participants in the SHAM group. Following HBOT, these results came to light:

  • Maximal oxygen consumption increased significantly with a 0.989 (0.210–1.76) effect size.
  • Mitochondrial respiration improved (see above).
  • Mitochondrial mass increased (see above).

Athletes competing at high levels achieve peak physical performance through training and constant practice. But this study indicates hyperbaric oxygen therapy can increase performance levels even further.

The main improvements occurred in maximal oxygen consumption, power, and the anaerobic threshold. Muscle biopsies showed that HBOT might significantly improve mitochondrial respiration and increase mitochondrial mass.

This double-blind controlled study shows that HBOT increases maximal oxygen capacity considerably compared to SHAM treatment. While doctors and medical researchers understood a correlation between HBOT and increased maximal oxygen capacity, this is the first time a clinical trial proved it in humans.

Key Takeaways from the Study

Following the double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, healthcare experts found that HBOT can help increase physical performance levels in master athletes. The key findings from the clinical trial include:

  • Maximal oxygen phosphorylation capacity increased significantly after HBOT sessions compared to SHAM sessions.
  • Maximal oxygen phosphorylation capacity increased significantly after HBOT sessions compared to SHAM sessions.
  • After HBOT, mitochondrial complex I function increased.
  • Mitochondrial mass marker MTG increased significantly in HBOT sessions compared to SHAM sessions.
  • Maximal oxygen consumption increased significantly in the HBOT group compared to the SHAM group.
  • These improvements contribute to overall increased physical performance in high-level athletes.

Additional Read: Why Athletes Should Consider Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Works

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy treats outpatients with various medical conditions by breathing pure oxygen. These conditions include some of the following:

  • anemia and loss of red blood cells
  • brain abscess
  • burns
  • carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning
  • decompression sickness
  • delayed radiation injury
  • gangrene
  • gas embolism
  • osteomyelitis
  • sudden deafness and vision loss

Many other medical conditions might be improved using HBOT, although healthcare providers may not approve HBOT to treat them. These conditions include:

  • arthritis
  • chronic pain
  • Crohn’s disease
  • fibromyalgia
  • Lyme disease
  • migraines
  • strokes

HBOT includes a couple of different procedures to help treat medical conditions and damaged blood vessels resulting from injury. Both procedures use hyperbaric chambers, but one is for individual treatment while the other is a therapy room for treating multiple people. Healthcare staff increase air pressure significantly inside these chambers, monitoring it during the session.

Different patients receive different treatments depending on their medical condition. Treatments also depend on how severe the condition or injury might be. In some cases, patients require multiple therapy sessions to achieve the desired results. Other therapies and medications might also help supplement some HBOT treatments.

Possible Downsides to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

While undergoing this clinical trial, two of the healthy, middle-aged athletes from the HBOT group developed viral infections in the upper airway. Two subjects from the SHAM group acquired pneumonia. Doctors also had to treat a gluteal subcutaneous hematoma in a different subject after the second biopsy.

Side effects often accompany any therapy or treatment. HBOT is no exception. Following HBOT, you might experience mild, temporary side effects that usually come with medical treatment. But some side effects can be long-lasting, such as the following:

  • fatigue
  • lightheadedness
  • lung damage
  • sinus damage

Although rare, other complications may occur during therapy. Before starting treatment or therapy, you should know what to expect and what could happen. Complications may include:

  • Collapsed lung: This might occur because of increased air pressure inside the hyperbaric chambers.
  • Seizures: If the central nervous system receives too much oxygen during HBOT, it can result in a seizure.
  • Middle ear injuries: When the air pressure changes dramatically inside the chambers, it might cause middle ear injuries such as a fluid leak and eardrum rupture.
  • Temporary vision change: During or after HBOT, eye lenses might change. This can sometimes result in temporary nearsightedness.
  • Lowered blood sugar: Blood sugar levels can drop in patients who use insulin. As HBOT feeds the body more oxygen and repairs damaged tissue, this complication comes into play.
  • Claustrophobia: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy occurs in closed-off, air-tight chambers and can last a couple of hours for one session. As a result, it can cause claustrophobia or trigger patients with claustrophobia.

Talk to your healthcare providers if you have concerns or questions about side effects and complications during or following hyperbaric oxygen therapy. They will make sure you receive the best treatment for your medical condition.

When Should You Avoid Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

While hyperbaric oxygen therapy can improve many different medical conditions, healthcare professionals don’t recommend it for everyone. HBOT can negatively affect people with certain types of conditions and illnesses. For example, if a patient has claustrophobia, HBOT can trigger it and make it worse.

Before getting hyperbaric oxygen therapy, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you suffer from lung diseases of any kind? HBOT will put you at a higher risk of lung collapse if you do.
  • Do you have a fever or cold? Dramatically changing air pressure within the chamber can worsen these illnesses.
  • Have you recently gone through ear surgery or injury? HBOT increases pressure in the head and can result in eardrum ruptures and fluid leaks.

Make sure to tell your doctor about any medical conditions you currently have. HBOT helps many patients, but it’s not the best option for everyone.

Additional Read: Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Clinic: 9 Essential Factors to Consider When Selecting HBOT Clinic

Get Top-Quality HBOT from NexGen Hyperbaric

At NexGen Hyperbaric, we offer the highest quality HBOT therapy. Our dedicated medical professionals make sure every patient gets the best treatment for them with the least likelihood of side effects. We’ll answer any questions or concerns you might have.

To learn more about the effects of HBOT on physical performance and how it can help you, call NexGen Hyperbaric today at (888) 567-4302!