HBOT Isn’t Just for Michael Jackson

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.

I Thought I Knew It All (well, most of it)

I’ve learned about most biomedical interventions for autism and really thought I was just going to “refresh and recharge” my batteries that fueled the science geek in me.  Where did I go, you ask?  The 2010 Autism Research Institute’s (ARI) Conference held in Long Beach, CA on October 8-10. That’s where doctors, research scientists and parents discuss the exploration and evaluation of scientifically documented biomedical interventions for individuals within the autism spectrum.

Well, of course no one person can possible know about every aspect of this medical research, but as a parent whose life has been engulfed by it, I thought I knew most of it.  Well, I don’t, and I find that exciting. We are still learning about autism and the sensitive biochemistry of our children that are triggered by various environmental assaults. Unfortunately, more research still needs to be done, more children will be hit by the “autism bus” and more parents will demand answers on why this is a growing epidemic.

I have said before on my blog that I believe autism is not solely a disorder of the brain, but one that affects the brain, the immune system, and the gut. Well, one of the leading autism research scientists is Dr. Jill James, PhD from Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and she spoke at the conference on her research done on oxidative stress in autism.

Oxidative stress is a condition which occurs when the production of free radicals in the human body exceeds the body’s ability to neutralize and eliminate them. Oxidative stress can result from a lack of antioxidants (like vitamins A, E and C) or from an over abundance of free radicals. Free radicals can react with key components of cells including DNA, lipids, and protein, resulting in cellular damage.

Dr. James discussed  “The Autism Triad: Brain-Gut-Immune Axis” which are inter-dependent and their individual balance requires each other. All three systems are highly sensitive to oxidative stress, especially during critical developmental windows. A healthy brain needs to develop in a healthy immune system and gut. All three systems are immature at birth. Gene and environmental interactions affect the intracellular GSH/GSSG (ratio of reduced glutathione to oxidized glutathione) and the maturation of all three systems.  GSH/GSSG is the measure of cellular toxicity. Glutathione is our body’s primary antioxidant that protects red blood cells from damage and destruction by mopping up toxic free radicals. (side note: Did you know it is also needed for the action of insulin?)

A toxic inflammatory insult in one of these (brain, immune system, gut) can indirectly affect the development and function of the others. Wow! That says it all for me. In other words, if your infant or young child has inflammation in their immune system from a virus (acquired/immunization), the development of their brain and gut will be affected. Or perhaps your child had numerous ear infections and prescribed antibiotics. Their gut was affected by the reduction of good bacteria (wiped out by the antibiotics) vs. the bad bacteria that took over. This is an example of an inflammatory insult to the gut, which indirectly affects the development of the brain and immune system.

Oxidative stress may be a final common pathway for many structurally diverse environmental exposures such as heavy metals (lead, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, mercury), solvents (alcohol, chlorine, benzene), and industrial chemicals (PCBs, pesticides, herbicides). All of these induce oxidative stress and deplete our body’s store of glutathione. Dr. James noted that a combined sub-toxic dose of these can reach a toxic threshold. Which means that our children can be exposed to these individual toxins at levels that are not considered toxic by our FDA/EPA, but the combined doses reach the toxic threshold.

This is exactly the point I continually try to make.  That our environment has a combination of toxic exposures that is affecting our current and future generation of children. It’s also affecting us as adults. It may not present itself as autism for us “grown ups”, but as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, etc.

Research in this area needs to continue and I am grateful for ARI, the doctors, scientists and parents that contribute their documented studies on biomedical interventions for autism.  Thanks to them, children are recovering and parents have hope. Perhaps our FDA and EPA could learn something from this community if they would just pay attention. I do know one thing. These agencies that are assigned to protect us certainly don’t (or choose not to) know it all.  And neither do I.

Recovery From Autism is Possible

My son is proof that it is possible to take back our children from the grasp that autism has on them.  For those skeptics out there that only believe autism is a psychiatric condition, well, read on. My son was not born with autism. He regressed around age 2 or 3.  I’m not certain exactly when because it was a slow process of regression and delayed development.  Autism gently nudged me over the course of a year.  I came to grips with it by the time my son turned 4.

That’s also when I discovered the Autism Research Institute and information on the biomedical treatment of autism. It made complete sense to me.  After several lab tests, we discovered that my son’s key biochemical pathways were dysfunctional and he was not detoxifying. These toxins caused dysbiosis, oxidative stress, and inflammation in his digestive tract.

What researchers have found, is that in most kids with autism, it is a disorder that affects the brain, immune system and gut.  We have the same neurotransmitters in our digestive tract (gut) as in our brain. They communicate with each other. Also, approximately 60 – 70% of our immune system lies within our “gut”.  Therefore, if your digestive system is suffering from inflammation, oxidative stress and dysbiosis, your brain and immune system are also affected. My son’s autistic behaviors were resulting from his overall biochemistry that was out of whack.  Once we treated his body, his brain started to function more neuro-typical. And he was able to catch up developmentally with behavior therapy.

Based on my own experience, research studies, and other parent testimonials, I believe that recovery from autism is possible. Today, my son is more neurotypical, than autistic.  If you met my son at age 4, and then again three years later, you’d be a believer too.  He’s not fully recovered, but if I had to put it into a percentage, I’d say he’s 85% there.  And we’re not done yet with therapies that can still help him.

Behavior therapies like ABA, DTT, Floortime, and more, can bring your child out of their world and back into your life.  Add biomedical treatments into the mix and your child will be more receptive to the therapies and catch up developmentally much quicker than without them.

Notice the word I’m using is RECOVERY. Not cure. Autism is not something that can be cured with a single protocol by medical doctors. It is a multifaceted, biochemical train wreck that manifests itself through behaviors caused by the brain reacting to the body’s illness.  Jenny McCarthy has said she compares it to being hit by a bus. You can get medical care and heal the body. You aren’t cured of a bus accident, you recover. Same goes for autism. You can get your child back. It’s going to take a lot of effort, time, perseverance and in most cases, money. Hopefully, one day, money won’t be an issue and parents will be able to obtain therapies and biomedical treatments for their child without mortgaging their life. It’s on the horizon. I’ve seen some signs of it.

Autism is treatable. Never give up hope. One day, the skeptics will be believers, and they too will know that recovery from autism is possible.  1 in 110 children are diagnosed with autism. I long to see that statistic change to 1 in 110 children recover from their autism diagnosis. Anything is possible!

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