Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been around for decades and the healing properties of it have been utilized by many doctors, researchers, athletes, and yes, even Michael Jackson. My first impression of HBOT was when I learned how it helped scuba divers with the “bends”, or decompression sickness, which occurs when the diver surfaces to quickly and nitrogen builds up in their body. It’s very painful and can even cause death. The treatment is to quickly get them to a pressurized chamber and have them breathe 100% oxygen.
In the 1980’s Michael Jackson started napping in a HBOT chamber to reap the health benefits and to preserve his youth. Seemed sort of creepy and strange to most everyone, and made you believe that HBOT was only for the wealthy. Star athletes, like Lance Armstrong, and major sport franchises have their own chamber to aid athletes in recovery from injury quicker.
What is HBOT?
Hyperbarics is a technology in which the air pressure in the environment is increased.
Hyper means increased and baric relates to pressure. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) thus refers to intermittent treatment of the entire body with 100-percent oxygen at greater than normal atmospheric pressures.
HBOT involves inhaling 100% oxygen at greater than one atmosphere absolute (ATA) in a pressurized chamber. The air we breathe at sea level is defined at 1 ATA. Low pressure/mild hyperbarics uses 1.5 ATA or less. When a person’s body is placed in a more pressure environment, it absorbs more oxygen molecules per volume of compressed air. The body normally transports oxygen via the hemoglobin of the red blood cells. By increasing the air pressure, oxygen is then driven into the body’s fluids, allowing a super-saturation of the tissues and organs with oxygen. The increased pressure infuses the body with oxygen, even reaching injuries with damaged circulation. An example of this is a blood clot in the brain (stroke).
What are the benefits of HBOT?
- It greatly increases oxygen concentration in all body tissues, even with reduced or blocked blood flow.
- Stimulates the growth of new blood vessels to locations with reduced circulation which aids the body in its own healing process.
- Increased oxygen greatly enhances the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria.
- Reduces inflammation in the gut and brain
- Increases blood vessel diameter greater than when therapy began, improving blood flow to compromised organs.
- Reduces oxidative stress
- Reduces swelling at injury site
- Removes toxins such as heavy metals from the body
Why HBOT for autism?
Multiple studies have shown that autism is a neurodegenerative (a loss of nerve cells/death of neurons) disease that features cerebral hypoperfusion, brain and GI inflammation, and increased oxidative stress. Hypoperfusion refers to decrease blood flow. Numerous studies on children with autism have shown decreased blood flow to the brain, especially in the temporal regions. The temporal lobes are responsible for speech, memory, emotional responses, auditory and visual processing, and olfactory (sense of smell)). This hypoperfusion is associated with many core symptoms of children with autism.
Decreased blood flow to the temporal lobes has also been correlated with an “obsessive desire for sameness”, “impairments in communication and social interaction”, and also with decreased IQ. Decreased blood flow to the temporal lobes and amygdala has been correlated with impairments in processing facial expressions and emotions and trouble recognizing familiar faces. Decreased blood flow to the thalamus has been correlated with repetitive, self-stimulatory, and unusual behaviors including resistance to changes in routine and environment.
Cerebral hypoperfusion causes hypoxia (or decreased oxygen), which triggers electrical failure in brain cells. Worsening hypoxia then eventually results in ion pump failure, which ultimately leads to cell death. Studies have shown that the oxygen delivered by HBOT can reverse hypoxia in brain tissues caused by hypoperfusion.
Inflammation is a known cause of decreased bloood flow. Research has shown us that when the GI tract is inflamed, so is the brain and immune system. It’s the triad of the gut, brain and immune system that are susceptible to inflammation if one of the three is damaged. HBOT improves gut inflammation by killing off the bad bacteria. Bacteria thrives on an oxygen deprived environment. When infused with oxygen, it dies off. Therefore, having a good probiotic on board, anti-oxidants like vitamin E, selenium, glutathione, and melatonin are recommended during HBOT treatments.
HBOT has improved symptoms in children with autism including enhancements in socialization, language, and repetitive behaviors. The GI tract improves, inflammation is reduced/eliminated, better sleep and improvements will continue months after treatment is concluded.
Hard Chamber or Soft Chamber?
This question is dependent on the child and doctor’s assessment of need. The hard chamber provides 100% oxygen at 1.5 ATA. The soft chamber uses room air and an oxygen concentrator that delivers 28% oxygen at 1.3 ATA. Less pressure, less oxygen concentration. Both chambers have shown effectiveness in eliminating symptoms of autism through studies.
The advantage to the soft chamber is parents can purchase or rent them for their home. This becomes more feasible for families that don’t have HBOT providers close to home. And all members of the family can be treated in the comfort of your own home. Plus you can take electronics into a soft chamber, so a game system like my son’s Nintendo DS will help occupy his time.
The number of treatments range from 40 dives to 80 dives. Each treatment is one hour. Most clinicians recommend at least 40 dives. Improvements may be seen as early as 10 dives, depending on the child. The recommendation is to have 40 treatments over 8 weeks. That’s 5 days/week with weekends off.
Cost of HBOT session range from $100-$150 per session. It is not for the faint of heart when committing to this financial investment in your child. I’m still investigating the cost of renting a soft chamber, so that will also factor into our decision on which chamber we’ll use.
Why HBOT for our son?
Well, the above information I provided is one reason. The main reason I am pursuing this therapy is that my son with autism suffered from obstructive sleep apnea from the age of 9 months to 2 yrs 10 mos. His sleep study indicated hypoxia, which means he is a perfect candidate for benefiting from HBOT. I believe he has brain cells that are “idling” right now and will get turned back on with the oxygen infusion. He also battles gut bacteria, low glutathione levels, and heavy metal toxicity, which will be reduced/eliminated with HBOT.
We have not determined which chamber we will pursue. A hard chamber is available to us, but is a one hour drive from our home. It takes approximately 15 minutes in the chamber to get to the pressure level and then each session is one hour. 15 more minutes to come back to normal pressure, resulting in a total of 1.5 hrs inside the chamber. Add to it the 1 hr drive to and from and our HBOT treatments now will take approximately 4 hours out of our day. We anticipate to start in the summer, with the break of school. The soft chamber rental is still an option that we are investigating. Both options appeal to us and we need to determine what is best for our child and family.
If you’re thinking about HBOT for your child, there is a ton of information on the internet and the research with children on the autism spectrum. We’ve been wanting to do this treatment for 2 years now, and 2011 is the year we will achieve this goal.
Filed under: Biomedical interventions, Therapies | Tagged: 1.5 ATA vs. 1.3 ATA, autism, Biomedical interventions, HBOT, health, high functioning autism, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, hyperbarics, hypoperfusion, hypoxia, immune system, inflammation, Joanne Allor, Michael Jackson, oxidative stress, probiotics | Leave a comment »