Is oxygen really the key to insulin resistance?

By Benedict Jephcote

Oxygen is key to life but could it also be a key factor in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes?

We take a look at the evidence behind this idea and also which methods could use oxygen towards our advantage in tackling insulin resistance.

Some research studies appear to show quite conclusively that restricting oxygen intake does indeed result in increased insulin resistance.

A study carried out by researchers from the University of Southampton and University College London, published in 2014, investigated the effects of low oxygen levels on insulin resistance by taking adults up Mount Everest.

The researchers found that as the participants reached higher altitudes, and were thus exposed to low levels of oxygen to breathe, they developed insulin resistance.

By contrast, the opposite effect has also been observed. Researchers from the University of Adelaide tested the effects by exposing people with type 2 diabetes to a total of six periods of 90 minutes of hyperbaric oxygen therapy over a five-week period.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves spending time in a pressurised diving chamber containing 100% oxygen. The technique resulted in a dramatic 40% improvement in insulin sensitivity, an effect that would usually require a 13% loss of body weight. It seems apparent from this that the more oxygen we get, the better insulin sensitivity we have.