Mental Health

Can lower oxygen concentrations reduce PTSD symptoms?

Some very early stage trials suggest reduced oxygen can reduce cognitive impairment associated with some conditions.

A triple amputee believes that giving his body lower concentrations of oxygen has helped alleviate 'brain fog' that he had suffered after being injured in Afghanistan.

Andy Reid, a former member of the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, made the discovery when he began altitude training in preparation to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Mr Reid first climbed Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, when he was 22, a young enthusiastic private in Northern Ireland, long before the IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan took three of his limbs.

For his second attempt, he requested the use of a thin air machine for his training.

The thin air machine delivers much lower concentrations of oxygen than people breath in normal air – similar to being at the top of a mountain.

Athletes frequently use this in training to perform at altitude, however, when Andy began using it he started to notice changes. 

Andy Reid Former 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment prepares for Kilimanjaro with thin air machine 10032022 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Triple amputee Andy Reid is training to climb Kilimanjaro using a thin air machine.

He said: "I just realised after about 10 or 11 days on the machine, I could think more clearly, I was sleeping better, I could make more decisive decisions about what I wanted to do in life."

The former soldier described how the machine helped lift the "fog" from his mind which he said made it difficult to think clearly.

The effects were also noticed by his wife.

Andy said: "My wife noticed a change in me where I was waking up and I was happier, because I wasn't tired because I'd not slept all night, so I wasn't as grumpy.

"I don't think I'm grumpy, but apparently, I'm quite grumpy!" he added. "I just seem to be enjoying life a little bit more."

A thin air machine, delivers lower concentrations of oxygen than we breath in normal air – similar to being at the top of a mountain 10032022 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
A thin air machine delivers lower concentrations of oxygen than in normal air – similar to being at the top of a mountain.

Every few months, Andy uses the machine for 40 minutes a day for 15 days – with a few days off in between. 

With the benefits he has seen, he began suggesting it to fellow veterans, many struggling with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. 

Reduced oxygen is generally thought to be a bad thing, with organs and cells dying without it.

However, those who actually live at altitude – therefore, breathing less oxygen – seem to be healthier, showing lower rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

Some research has suggested hearts and spinal cords heal faster when briefly deprived of oxygen and some very early-stage trials suggest it can reduce cognitive impairment associated with some conditions. 

It is not yet known why this might help, but it has been suggested it might be training the body to be more efficient with its oxygen.

Andy thinks this might be reducing inflammation in his brain caused by his injuries.

More research will be needed before thin air machines are regularly used because they could be dangerous for people with certain health conditions. 

Andy's training for Kilimanjaro continues, with the attempt planned for October, but he says he plans to continue using the thin air machine after the climb is complete as it has become part of his routine – affording him better sleep, clarity and contentment.