In a pilot trial, researchers have reported that treating mild to moderately depressed individuals with oxygen-enriched air had “a significant beneficial effect” on some depression symptoms.
Fifty-one participants completed 4 weeks of the oxygen vs. placebo treatment. The trial was designed to test the idea that delivering oxygen at normal atmospheric pressure (“normobaric”) in moderately higher concentration than ambient air might improve certain aspects of brain function and provide some measure of relief from depression symptoms.
The concept is not to be confused with “hyperbaric” oxygen therapy, or HBOT, which is used in medical facilities around the world to speed healing of carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, stubborn wounds, and infections in which tissues are starved for oxygen. Those who receive hyperbaric oxygen must enter a special chamber to breathe pure oxygen at air pressure levels 1.5 to 3 times higher than normal.
The researchers sought to determine whether treating depressed individuals with oxygen that is only moderately enriched, at standard atmospheric pressure, might similarly improve mitochondrial function or affect brain biology in other ways that might be therapeutic.
The team said that the notable differences between the treated and control groups was evident only after 4 continuous weeks of oxygen therapy. While their study was not designed to determine how or why oxygen therapy may have beneficially impacted brain function, they hypothesize that raising the pressure of the dissolved oxygen portion of blood plasma affects oxygen pressure at key enzymes, and perhaps in mitochondria, possibly causing beneficial effects.
The results were encouraging to the team, which said the concept, being “simple, non-invasive, and safe,” merits further exploration in larger replication studies. These would ideally include more patients including some with severe depression symptoms, and might test enhanced oxygen over longer periods and with follow-ups to measure the efficacy and durability of the pilot study’s results.