Remember those pictures of the late Michael Jackson sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in the 1980s in an effort to stay youthful? It didn't work for him, sadly. But that hasn't kept other celebrities from dabbling in exotic methods of reinvigoration.
Take, for example, pop psychologist, best-selling author and TV host Dr. Phil McGraw, who turned 63 on Sept. 1. According to TMZ.com, McGraw has invested some $65,000 in a device called a CVAC, which stands for Cyclic Variations in Adaptive Conditioning. The pod-shaped CVAC looks a little like a personal-sized spacecraft. But instead of flying, it only simulates the air pressure, density and temperature that the person inside would experience if he or she climbed to a high altitude.
The CVAC can simulate conditions at up to 22,500 feet above sea level, which is slightly higher than the tallest point in the Andes mountain range in Peru, for sessions that last up to 20 minutes. The idea, according to CVAC's website, is that brief, rhythmic exposure to simulated altitude changes will trigger the user's body to adjust by increasing the flow of oxygen to tissues, and also speed the removal of toxins from the body.
Athletes such as professional tennis star Novak Djokovic apparently have been using CVAC machines to help strengthen their bodies, an effect was validated by a study published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine in 2009. TMZ also reports that the unusual-looking machine also might function as a sort of fountain of youth, which "purportedly improves circulation, boosts oxygen-rich blood cells, and even stimulates biogenesis and stem cell production." Those supposed rejuvenating abilities might be a plus for Dr. Phil, who reportedly suffers from knee and shoulder problems.
In a March 2013 USA Today article, writer Edward C. Baig, who did a brief demonstration session in a CVAC, described it as a less-than-relaxing experience, in which "my ears repeatedly popped as if I were on an airplane." We'll see if it seems to help Dr. Phil (who's also mentioned as a CVAC user in the USA Today piece).
A word of caution: If you're thinking that an extended hike in the mountains might be a more enjoyable, natural way to get the altitude effect, you need to be careful. A study published in 1977 in the medical journal Circulation advised "elderly individuals, particularly those with coronary artery disease, to limit their activity during the first few days at [high] altitude to allow this acclimatization process to occur."
Here's a 2010 TV segment on CVAC, which discusses its possible use in treatment of diabetes.
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