Oxygen Therapy to Prevent Dementia

 In Naturopathic News

Node Smith, ND

A new research study shows how supplemental oxygen improves neurovascular function in individuals with breathing difficulties.1 This concept may have further therapeutic benefits for the prevention of pathology affecting the brain, such as dementia.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) breathing difficulties studied

The breathing difficulties looked at were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a general term for lung conditions causing long term respiratory difficulties, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These are common conditions affecting adults who have been smokers, or have damaged lung tissue due to other chronic toxic exposure.

COPD sufferers known to be at higher risk of developing dementia

Individuals with COPD are known to be at higher risk of developing dementia, and one theory behind this increase risk has to do with the lower level of brain oxygenation arising from poor perfusion of oxygen in the lungs, resulting in a poor blood supply to the brain. From this theory, it has been postulated that perhaps supplemental oxygen could help prevent the development of dementia in this population, but the mechanisms of this theory have never been fully looked into until now.

Research looked at how supplemental oxygen affected brain blood flow & vascular function

The research looked specifically at how supplemental oxygen affected brain blood flow as well as vascular function in COPD patients. Ultrasound was used to assess blood flow of patients at rest, as well as during and after oxygen delivery. Oxygen was administered through nasal cannula for 20-30 minutes. In addition, brain activity was also assessed. Participants were initially asked to close their eyes, then upon opening their eyes were asked to read standardized text. This was meant to increase activity in the brain, with an anticipated result of increasing blood flow to account for an increase in oxygen need.

Study found that increasing supplemental oxygen increased blood flow and vessel dilation

The study did find that increasing oxygen through supplemental means increased blood flow, and vessel dilation in COPD patients, able to account for increases in brain activity. The study does not address the long-term use of oxygen therapy in this patient population, but may serve as rationale to advocate the initiation of oxygen therapy to patients who are known to have respiratory compromise, and are not currently on supplemental oxygen.


  1. Hoiland RL, Mladinov S, Barak OF, et al. Oxygen therapy improves cerebral oxygen delivery and neurovascular function in hypoxaemic chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Exp Physiol. 2018.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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