By Carol L. Roberts, MD, ABIHM
This article was featured in the Spring Edition of Essential Naples magazine.


When we talk about slowing down the aging process, we usually start with lifestyle – exercise and good nutrition.

There is one nutrient that no one thinks of as such. It’s the most critical because without it a person will die, literally within minutes. Of course, that nutrient is oxygen.

We all know the effects of acute oxygen deprivation, but have you ever thought about the consequences of chronic low oxygen? It’s as important a factor in aging as poor nutritional choices, chronic inactivity or smoking.

In fact, there are numerous adverse effects of long-term low oxygen.

Harmful effects of long-term low oxygen

So, who is affected and how are they affected?

Sleep apnea is a well-known cause of hypo-oxygenation. Nasal airway obstruction is worse when lying down – gravity is not helping drain excess fluids from the nose and sinuses. Nasal tissues flapping in the breeze can cause snoring, – a sure sign of obstruction that can result in low oxygenation.

But it can also be a problem in the daytime – allergies and pollution can cause swelling of the nasal turbinates (the passageways in the nose where air flows through) and partial or complete obstruction of the airway. Over time the habit of mouth breathing is established. Not breathing through the nose means that air is not properly conditioned for the lungs – warmed, cleaned and humidified before reaching the delicate alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. It would be as if you were running your air conditioner in the heat of summer but kept all the windows and doors open at the same time!

Nasal passages can be rinsed to eliminate particles that filter out from the air. A Neti pot, or Navage Nasal Irrigation Kit can be purchased to do that. During allergy season, or brush fire season, or all year in the city – a good practice is to do that every day, maybe twice a day. You can put additives in the water for various purposes – liquid silver to keep down viruses and bacteria.

N-acetylcysteine or glutathione to reduce inflammation, probiotics appropriate for the nose and throat to normalize conditions after an illness or antibiotic use.

In the book “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art,” author James Nestor describes a simple technique for restoring nasal breathing at night. He recommends placing a small piece of surgical tape vertically across the center of the lips, not to glue them together, but simply as a “reminder” to keep the mouth closed and breathe exclusively through the nose. Over a short period of time a person can establish proper breathing with minimal expense and trouble. Breathe Right strips – that look like a Band-Aid with a waistline – can help keep the nostrils dilated at night for easier movement of air.

I used to be an otorhinolaryngologist (that’s ENT, Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon). I operated on a thousand kids with big adenoids, tonsils and plugged up ears. The surgery addressed the issue, but not the cause. Getting them off dairy would have made a huge difference to their ability to breathe and kept them off the operating table!

Later in life dairy continues to be a problem for a large number of people. For those with sinus congestion, a trial of 2 weeks off dairy – including yogurt, cheese, cream in your coffee, whey protein – might have a benefit. Drinking some milk after being off for 2 weeks will very quickly tell you if you have a problem with dairy.

How to treat long-term low oxygen

After years of low oxygen, the brain is heavily affected. Since the brain uses 20% of the oxygen we breathe, it is the most affected organ over the years. Forgetfulness, mood disturbances, loss of attention span, and many other cognitive problems may gradually appear. Most people will shrug it off and attribute the decline to aging. But what if there were a way to regain brain function and keep it maximally functional for the rest of your life?

There is such a treatment, it’s called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, or HBOT.

The therapy was invented to recover divers who had a condition called “the bends”, where, by surfacing too fast, dissolved nitrogen in the blood starts to come out of solution and form bubbles (just like the bubbles in champagne as it warms) and pain or death results. Putting the diver in a pressurized chamber pushes the nitrogen back into solution. Then, by slowly reducing the pressure in the chamber, the diver can “surface” at a slower pace that doesn’t allow bubble formation.

Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

When used with 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber, oxygen is pushed into the blood – not just the red cells, but also the serum, and directly into the tissues of the body. This functions like a booster for the brain. Extra oxygen activates neurotropic factors – chemicals release by the brain that allows for new connections, and even new cells, to form. Rejuvenation is the result.

For any patient who is interested in improving brain function and staying sharp all of her life – ten HBOT treatments per year (more for people with head injuries or brain dysfunction) is recommended. Spacing them close together, perhaps one a day for 2 weeks, seems to be the best strategy.

For roughly the cost of a week’s vacation, a patient can get the benefit of brain boosting oxygen to stay smart and slow the aging process for the entire body.

VIEW OUR FREE GUIDE to learn more about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). Please consult with your physician prior to making any substantial lifestyle, health or nutritional changes.

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Dr. Carol L. Roberts is the medical director at Naples Center for Functional Medicine and author of “Good Medicine: A Return to Common Sense.” Dr. Roberts has practiced functional, integrative and holistic medicine for nearly 30 years.

To request an appointment with Dr. Roberts as a first-time patient, please contact our new patient coordinator at or (239) 649-7400.

To reach our Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Office, call (239) 434-9699 or email

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