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Elite Freedivers Plunging Deep Into Oceans Have Brain Oxygen Levels Even Lower Than Seals: Study

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

The study aims at finding new ways to treat human cardiac patients as well as increase the safety of freedivers.

Sea diving is an adventurous sport that ensures an adrenaline rush to thrill-seekers. Elite freedivers dive unaided in the open ocean. They can even make a dive reaching up to 350ft or 107 metres under the water – the limit only marine creatures such as seals, whales, and dolphins are capable of diving into. However, a recent study reveals that divers who plunge to that extent of depth experience brain oxygen levels even lower than seals.

Elite human freedivers achieve some of the most exceptional feats of human endurance. Making dives lasting more than four minutes, they reach depths of more than 100 m on a single breath-hold. Freedivers push the limits of what the human body can tolerate. The new findings published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society state that divers achieve this exemplary feat because they show similar physiology to marine mammals when they are in the water.

The lead researcher, Dr Chris McKnight of the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews, revealed, “We measured heart rates as low as 11 beats per minute and blood oxygenation levels drop to 25 percent, which is far beyond the point at 50 percent.”

He further stated that their physiological reactions and the conditions they’re exposed to are so unique that they can’t easily be replicated. That is the reason, the group of freedivers offer a unique way of understanding how the body responds to low blood oxygen, low brain oxygenation, and severe cardiovascular suppression.

The study aims at finding new ways to treat human cardiac patients as well as increase the safety of freedivers. The study also aids in analysing how freedivers have conditioned themselves to tolerate bouts of extremely low oxygen and brain oxygen delivery. The analysis furthers the understanding of how pre-treatment (pre-conditioning) for surgical procedures could be carried out. The study also aims at developing surgical procedures to improve brain and heart protection during cardiac surgery.

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first published:June 29, 2021, 20:30 IST