Treatment with oxygen without evidence of efficacy

Some doctor's offices, clinics, and alternative practitioners offer what's called intermittent hypoxia-hyperoxia therapy—abbreviated IHHT. The patient alternately breathes oxygen-free and oxygen-enriched air through a mask. Ten or more treatments over several weeks are common.

IHHT is said to alleviate a whole range of complaints and help with various ailments. We investigated whether this is true.

Questionable effect on memory, heart and circulation

We found only studies examining the effectiveness of IHHT for two health problems: memory problems in the elderly [Quellen 1,2] and high blood pressure in those at high cardiovascular risk [Quellen 3-5]. It compared intermittent hypoxia-hyperoxia treatment with sham treatment.

However, studies cannot answer whether IHHT helps with these health problems. On the one hand, studies have serious shortcomings (see section “Studies in detail“). They also come to contradictory conclusions.

It is also unclear to what extent IHHT helps with other chronic health problems. Because it has not been researched in meaningful studies.

Dizziness and shortness of breath are possible

Studies do not appear to have fully examined side effects. In one study [Quelle 3] However, it was noted that participants reported temporary dizziness and shortness of breath after the first treatment. Such complaints can also occur in high mountains, where the air is thinner and contains less oxygen than in the lowlands.

Can't compare to altitude training

IHHT websites often refer to altitude training, which is well known in sports. The air in the mountains is “thinner” than in the lowlands. Therefore, the body absorbs less oxygen. In response, the body produces more red blood cells. They bind oxygen and carry it to cells in the blood. In this way, athletes can improve oxygen supply to muscles by training for days or weeks at high altitude. [Quelle 6].

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IHHT, on the other hand, takes place without training – usually while lying down. In contrast to altitude training with only deoxygenated air, during IHHT you alternately breathe deoxygenated and oxygenated air. So this therapy cannot be compared to altitude training in sports.

The ad claimed to be a Nobel Prize

Advertisements about IHHT often refer to the 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine. If you don't look closely, you can easily get the impression that the Nobel Prize was awarded to the IHHT. In fact, the prizewinners have only discovered how cells respond to changes in oxygen levels in the environment [Quelle 7]. Researchers have never studied the impact of IHHT on health.

Intermittent hypoxia and hyperoxia therapy are given different names. It is also sometimes referred to as cell training or mitochondrial training. The term intermittent hypoxia-hyperoxia therapy is also sometimes used. As statutory health insurance companies do not cover the costs, you usually have to pay for the treatments yourself. Usually 10 to 15 are advertised Meetings.

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