Mechanisms underlying the health benefits of intermittent hypoxia conditioning

J Physiol. 2023 Oct 20. doi: 10.1113/JP285230. Online ahead of print.


Intermittent hypoxia (IH) is commonly associated with pathological conditions, particularly obstructive sleep apnoea. However, IH is also increasingly used to enhance health and performance and is emerging as a potent non-pharmacological intervention against numerous diseases. Whether IH is detrimental or beneficial for health is largely determined by the intensity, duration, number and frequency of the hypoxic exposures and by the specific responses they engender. Adaptive responses to hypoxia protect from future hypoxic or ischaemic insults, improve cellular resilience and functions, and boost mental and physical performance. The cellular and systemic mechanisms producing these benefits are highly complex, and the failure of different components can shift long-term adaptation to maladaptation and the development of pathologies. Rather than discussing in detail the well-characterized individual responses and adaptations to IH, we here aim to summarize and integrate hypoxia-activated mechanisms into a holistic picture of the body's adaptive responses to hypoxia and specifically IH, and demonstrate how these mechanisms might be mobilized for their health benefits while minimizing the risks of hypoxia exposure.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; cellular stress responses; intermittent hypoxia conditioning; mitochondria; neurological disorders; oxygen sensing.