Nobel Prize – How we sense Oxygen

Nobel Prize in Physiology – OXYGEN


This years Nobel prize in Physiology goes to 3 researchers who helped to reveal the way cells in the body respond too and sense oxygen availability. We now know the body senses Oxygen at the tissue level, and changes its physiology when there is a lack of supply or an abundance. Something we and others have been experimenting with for a while now in athletic performance.

Previous posts unravel why athletes have been using altitude as a performance tool, to increase red blood cells and the oxygen carrying capacity of their body. Athletes are using Oxygen as a stimulus to improve performance and increase the number of cars (red blood cells) in their bloodstream to carry Oxygen in the body.

Now, with this latest research and almost a million dollars in prize money, researchers can start understanding how reduced levels of oxygen stimulate change.



Think of a stroke or a heart attack, this is an acute response to reduced oxygen supply at the tissue level. When small arteries become blocked in the heart, contractile tissue suffers stress because of the lack of blood and oxygen supply, this tissue then dies and the patient will feel pain down the left arm and suffer a heart attack.

Cancer cells need blood supply in order to grow, they hijack tissues and steal their blood supply by creating more blood vessels to deliver the cancer the oxygen it requires to grow.

If we can understand how cancer does this we may be able to treat it more effectively, and think of using the cancer strategy to create more blood vessels for a heart which is starting to suffer from reduced oxygen supply!

So can we prevent a heart attack?

Who knows but with the research pushing full steam ahead and using the findings we may be able to help alleviate one of the Worlds biggest killers, heart disease.



When we introduce hypoxic situations to the body, previous studies have shown that this triggers the expression of the EPO gene. Erythropoietin (EPO) stimulates red blood cell production in the bone marrow which allows individuals to carry more oxygen in their blood. What we don’t know is how this was occurring?



The team discovered hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) which is a protein that reads the DNA in our genes and tells our body to produce more red blood cells in response to low levels of oxygen.

When there is lots of Oxygen, HIF remains down regulated and does not stimulate EPO genes to increase red blood cell production. When hypoxia is present in any cell in the body, HIF Is up-regulated and it goes about doing its job telling the kidney to make more red blood cells.

We have now found out how hypoxia stimulates the increase in red blood cell production on a deeper level. The up and down regulation of HIF which is stimulated by hypoxia in any cell in the body.

Like many interesting findings, some of this research was born from the study of Hippel-Lindau disease. A terrible condition where many tumours grow in organs of the body. The researchers were able to unpack the reasons into how tumours were growing by re-directing blood supply and allowing oxygen to reach the tumours to continue their growth.



I, along with many others such as Wim Hof, Brian McKenzie use stress to stimulate the body to respond positively. We continue to trial intermittent hypoxic exercise and utilise the breath to improve health and performance. If you have an interest in the breath then get in contact and we can tailor a program to suit your specific needs.

I began my journey with pathology, treating many patients with asthma and COPD. These patients are chronically hypoxic and often hyperventilate to compensate. This brings a whole cacophony of physiological changes and its great to be at the forefront of this science.