CVAC – Breathe and Beware

Right now, all over the world but especially in first world countries there is high demand for new techniques to increase healthspan at the latter stage of human life. When a need becomes somewhat prominent, it is only logical for some people to look for ways of making money from it. This is not necessarily bad, motivated individuals may end up providing a valuable service and making life much easier or better.

One interesting example of an attempt to provide a service for those who would like to live healthy lives for as long as they can, is what is now known as the Cyclic Variations in Adaptive Conditioning machine or CVAC machine. The CVAC treatment involves placing someone inside a special chamber where air pressure will increase and decrease cyclically for about 20 minutes. According to most websites, three 20 minutes sessions per week will eventually cause a series of positive changes in the person’s body that include but are not limited to: stem cell replication, better sleep patterns, lactic acid removal, and stimulation of mitochondrial biogenesis.

The CVAC pods are described as modified versions of hypobaric chambers, meaning, that they not only decrease the air pressure to replicate high altitude conditions but they vary air pressure several times during a single session following a programmed pattern. Many different businesses (spas and other wellness-oriented establishments) have started to advertise these machines and their health benefits. Considering the high cost of these chambers and the unclear amount of sessions needed before obtaining any benefit, we should at least determine if they are what they claim to be.

Any individual with a mild interest in this procedure will probably have several questions about it. The most common ones (what is it?, how does it work?, etc) will probably be answered quickly by reading the description in websites like Tony Robbins and CVAC systems, however, as they read the few paragraphs, they may find something a bit odd, which is, for all their claims, most sites won’t offer clear references about hard research or any kind of reliable data on the effects of CVAC treatments over the human body. This is always a red flag.

If you are a particularly curious individual, you may try to find more reliable information about this procedure, in that case, sooner or later you’ll have to read academic papers related to the topic, but, at that point you’ll find that there is very little reliable information about CVAC in general. CVAC is not really a hot topic within the scientific community right now. The larger amount of official documentation about these machines are patents. Independent studies (especially those with human subjects) are rare.

After trying to obtain more information about CVAC and other related treatments, it will become apparent that either CVAC is not the magnificent procedure that many claim it to be or its health benefits have been severely overlooked by the bulk of the scientific community.

The basic principle of CVAC is not without merit. Some studies have related cyclic variation of air pressure (Cyclic Hypobaric Hypoxia) with improvement of glucose metabolism in middle-age men; increased endurance in athletes and improved β-cell replication in mice. These benefits are not trivial but they are also not what was advertised. At this point, any potential client or patient should be aware of the limited data regarding CVAC therapy before spending their money.

Aging Biomarkers – Chronological v Biological Age

Chronological age can be defined as the time measured from an individual’s birth to a particular date. Biological age is more complex, since it positions an individual within its own lifespan and probability of survival, meaning that a 67 year old man with a biological age of 60 is more likely to live longer than a 67 year old man with a biological age of 70. These concepts are related and in some cases the values can be equal but they are not the same thing.

Chronological age is simply a number representing the length of someone’s life to a particular point; therefore it is difficult to associate biomarkers to it since any biomarker with any influence in the capacity for survival would immediately be more related to biological age. A strict chronological age biomarker should be a biological feature that changes over an individual lifespan but doesn’t directly affect the probability for survival.

There are several biomarkers currently being used that don’t influence survival greatly and are related to older individuals, these could be easily called “chronological age biomarkers”. Reduction of the coronal pulp cavity (using radiography) is a very common method used in forensic science, however, in adults most signs of aging like wrinkles and silver hair are features that can manifest at different points in someone’s life and won’t be useful to accurately determine someone’s biological age.

When looking for aging biomarkers that will reveal the biological age of an individual, these can be split between functional (macro) and physiological (micro) biomarkers.

Aging Biomarkers Infographic

Biological Biomarkers

After many decades of research, the scientific community now agrees on 9 hallmarks of aging that relate to physiological processes acting at the cellular level. These are: accumulation of genetic errors due to genomic instability, telomere attrition or degradation, epigenetic alterations, damage of the internal mechanism in charge of quality control for protein synthesis, deregulated nutrient sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, loss of the capacity to grow and change stem cell exhaustion and altered intercellular communication.

All of the physiological biomarkers considered above provide data about the capacity of the organism to sustain operation of its own processes over time and also about its capacity to withstand different forms of stress.

These nine hallmarks of aging are robust candidates to be considered for any system dedicated to the determination of biological age; however, obtaining accurate measurements of any of them requires a lot of specialized equipment and capable staff, since they cannot be evaluated easily. Some of them like stem cell exhaustion or mitochondrial dysfunction can only be measured by taking a biopsy and performing a longitudinal study in vitro under laboratory conditions, something that most laboratories don’t provide as part of their usual services.

Functional Biomarkers

Fortunately, functional biomarkers are easier to measure and are considered equally valid to measure biological age. These cover both cognitive and physical performance and include visual acuity (Snellen chart), auditory acuity (pure tone audiometry), decision reaction time, grip strength (dynamometers), body mass index (height and weight measurement), blood pressure (systolic and diastolic pressure), lung capacity (spirometer) and memory.

Functional age is a specialized form of biological age, is task-oriented, and can provide valuable information in regards to an individual’s capacity to perform a particular task or its vulnerability within a certain set of conditions.

All biomarkers mentioned in this article have shown correlation with the process of aging in the past, however, a system designed to provide an accurate value for someone´s biological age will have to integrate a large number of these variables at the same time and incorporate an elegant method to accumulate, process and interpret data from a considerable amount of sources.

They don’t want you to hear about the end of ageing

Recently I attempted to crowd fund the Live Forever Manual – 101 practical tips on how to live forever. Didn’t hear about it? It was harder to publicise than I had expected.

The first hurdle was Kickstarter refusing to host the campaign. It decided it was in breach of its “cure, treat, or prevent an illness or condition” restriction. I appealed explaining that this was to be no miracle cure scientifically proven advice on increasing your lifespan. Maybe I should take heart that they at least recognised ageing as an illness to be cured rather than inevitability.

Oh well, I moved the campaign to Indiegogo which are a bit more lax with their rules.

So now to promote it. Although initially (automatically?) happy to take my money, Twitter later deemed the adverts ineligible based on their Unacceptable Business Practices policy – though didn’t explain which part of it – the book wasn’t going to be illegal or drugs and drug paraphernalia so I’m really not sure what their problem was. You don’t get much information even when you appeal.

I even tried offline, in old fashioned print, in Private Eye – a UK satirical magazine. All I got from them was “advert has not been approved” – and this is a publication which accepts classified ads for Thinking Twats’ T-shirts and anonymous bank transfer requests.

Maybe with enough clout, and a paid lawyer, these organisations could be persuaded to change their mind. But an interesting warning to others wanting to promote radical life extension – on top of overcoming the common reluctance in your audience to believe what you’re saying, the people passing on the message may stop them even hearing it in the first place.