What is Intermittent Hypoxic Therapy (IHT)
Intermittent Hypoxic Therapy (IHT) delivers modified air containing lower oxygen levels (9-15%) to clients for a few minutes at a time (stress), interspersed with periods of higher oxygen levels (rest). Client heart rate and blood oxygen levels are continuously monitored by trained staff to ensure gentle and effective stress levels are achieved. Intermittent Hypoxic therapy is based on principles of adaptive medicine whereby the use of a stress and rest protocol trains the body to effectively manage the effects of physical, emotional and mental stress- all of which contribute to aging, disease and infirmity. Research has shown that adaptation to one type of stress or load will, to some extent, increase the body’s ability to cope with stresses of another type.
What are its origins?
IHT originated in Russia where researchers wanted to find a solution to acclimatising pilots, athletes, mountaineers and cosmonauts to low-oxygen environments without the cost of sending them to live in high altitude areas. It was achieved in a clinical setting at normal altitude and without inducing altitude sickness through the stress and rest principle of intermittent hypoxic therapy. Through their research it was found that adaptation to altitude has tremendous potential for enhancing the health and wellbeing of the average person and modifying the course of many chronic illnesses.
How does it work?
Physiological changes occur when we experience hypoxic stress. Over time our body adapts its ability to efficiently absorb, transport and use oxygen to our best advantage while training our bodies to have enhanced stress resilience. Using the intermittent technique allows gradual adaptation to altitude, minimising adverse stress on the body and activating the body’s own internal production of antioxidants in the brain, liver and heart as a result of the repeated re-oxygenation that occurs during the rest phase.
The main effect of IHT is to increase the efficiency with which the body takes up, transports and uses oxygen by stimulating an improvement in both heart and lung functions, and increasing their size. Blood vessels dilate and new capillaries are formed in the heart, brain and skeletal muscles in response to lower oxygen levels. In the blood, levels of erythropoietin, haemoglobin and myoglobin increase ensuring the blood has a greater capacity to carry and transport oxygen around the body. Within cells there is a replenishment of mitochondria needed for the metabolism of oxygen and energy production. By undertaking a course of IHT, your body will experience a decrease in the need for oxygen by approximately 20% with a corresponding increase in the ability to use oxygen.
In 1991 researchers reported a 100% increase in serotonin in patients subjected to 3-weeks of intermittent hypoxic therapy. This corresponded with an increase in dopamine levels by 25-30%. These changes directly produce calmness, less impulsivity with greater focus and attention to task. IHT also improves the transport of glucose into cells, providing brain cells with levels required to focus on tasks over an extended period. During IHT brain cells also increase production of particular protective chemicals which reduce inflammation and cause brain capillaries to widen. This is important for people with learning difficulties, and depression and anxiety states who have been shown to have reduced brain blood flow on PET scans.
What conditions can it be used to treat?
There is a multitude of physiologic changes precipitated by a program of IHT providing a valid contribution to the management of many health and wellness issues, while simultaneously producing individual widespread positive benefits. Research has shown IHT helps with:
- Mood stability (Anxiety and depression)
- Energy levels
- Exercise recovery and stamina
- Stress management
Whilst intermittent hypoxic therapy is very useful, it is one of a number of therapies that can facilitate an individual’s progress towards reaching their potential.