Recently, I’ve been diving into the effects of intermittent hypoxia and its potential benefits. Some of the studies I’ve read leave me both amazed and confused.
Amazed by the fact that the published scientific research seems to indicate a mind-blowing list of beneficial effects to modest intermittent hypoxia exposure.
The confusion I’m left with is why this information is not more commonly known or recommended among the medical and healthcare community.
Finding a Needle in a Haystack
First and foremost, I’m not a doctor, medical expert, scientist, or healthcare professional of any kind. I would characterize myself as a middle-aged, athletic weekend-warrior with a high level of curiosity regarding physical fitness and personal health.
I’m always looking to optimize my performance. Whether it’s lifting weights, running, or working hard at the office, I’m always trying to learn how to increase performance and improve my health-related struggles.
There seems to be a never-ending flow of tips, tricks, and hacks to solve almost any problem you find yourself struggling with, so I’ve been “dialed-in” to the best and brightest health and fitness personalities over the years.
With all this information at our fingertips, quality information can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. How are we to keep up with the ever-changing research and recommendations pouring out of the internet each day?
That being said, I thought I was tapped into the constant stream of knowledge coming from the best and the brightest as it relates to health and fitness.
My Twitter stream is full of “expert” PhDs, “world-renowned” fitness gurus, and mega-rich and famous “self-help” podcasting personalities. I was fairly confident that nothing was getting past me related to fitness, self-help, wellness, and longevity.
The facts were, I was clueless about the concepts of how carbon dioxide play are role in health and fitness, and I had never contemplated intermittent hypoxia or intermittent hypoxia training. But sometimes you get lucky, which is what happened to me.
Opening My Eyes to a Whole New World
James Nestor wrote an amazing book titled “Breath.” If you haven’t read it yet, go read it immediately. His book knocked me out of my chair and blew my mind because he discusses breathing, “The New Science of a Lost Art” in a way that nobody has ever presented the topic before.
In the book, he covers the enormous role that carbon dioxide plays, not just in breathing, but virtually every other aspect of your health, and it was something I had never considered before.
For someone like myself, who struggled to unlock issues with my own breathing problems, the instant I read Nestor’s first paragraph about carbon dioxide, the hair on my arms literally stood straight up.
I had chills like you would get when you read the ending of a great Steven King novel. I was shocked. Many things clicked in my head at that moment with regards to my own health struggles, so I dove headfirst into the scientific research available on the role of carbon dioxide in the body.
Intermittent Hypoxia Research
A study was published in the American Journal of Physiology by Angela Navarrete-Opazo and Gordon Mitchell, “Therapeutic Potential of Intermittent Hypoxia: A Matter of Dose.” The paper discusses the “bewildering array” of both detrimental and beneficial effects of intermittent hypoxia.
Outlined in the paper is the crucial difference between safe and therapeutic exposure to intermittent hypoxia and extended or severe exposure, which could be unsafe to the body.
The paper cites that “accumulating evidence suggests that “low dose” intermittent hypoxia may be a simple, safe, and effective treatment with considerable therapeutic potential for multiple clinical disorders.”
Included in the research is a definition of intermittent hypoxia as “repeated or recurrent episodes of low oxygen, interspersed with periods of normoxia.” The paper explains that this definition doesn’t really begin to explain the key factors and guidelines of the subject or its impact on bodily systems.
Researchers summarized potential benefits in health-related problems with far-reaching outcomes related to exposure to increased levels of carbon dioxide within defined doses. Here’s a brief list of areas where intermittent hypoxia has the potential to benefit your health:
- Sleep Apnea
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Cardiovascular System
- Arterial Hypertension
- Myocardial Infarction
- Inflammatory / Immune Responses to IH ( Intermittent Hypoxia )
- Metabolic Responses to IH
- Bone Tissue Remodeling
- Learning and Memory
- Brain Ischemia and Stroke
- IH Induced-Respiratory Neuroplasticity
- Breathing in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
- Breathing after Spinal Cord Injury
- Limb Function and Walking after Spinal Cord Injury
As you can see, the potential health benefits from intermittent hypoxia are enormous. Recent studies show that IH has a huge effect on multiple systems within the body, and many scientists are still studying the benefits.
The paper includes an interesting point, “with low cycle numbers per day and/or mild to moderate hypoxic episodes, apparently beneficial effects are more predominant. Accumulating evidence suggests that low-dose IH has considerable therapeutic potential to treat multiple clinical conditions.”
More Conclusive Research is Needed…
As with almost every scientific paper published in the history of the world, the IH paper mentioned the same disclaimer.
Something to the effect of ‘More conclusive research is needed before we can draw a conclusion…’ And that’s the good news, more research is needed and should absolutely be done so we can continue learning about this fascinating subject.
I’m searching for a study on intermittent hypoxia and intermittent hypoxia training that aims to define dosage, duration, frequency, and intensity.
If we can define these factors creating safe guidelines for intermittent hypoxia training, more people can benefit by applying this incredible health research to their health and wellness routines.
When less oxygen means more healing. A novel spinal cord injury therapy called therapeutic intermittent hypoxia is being tested by co-principal investigators Drs. Emily Fox and Gordon Mitchell.