Welcome to Medical Monday!! I hope you’re getting ready for a great week ahead. Today I want to talk about a therapy that I just love, even though it’s time and money intensive so it is not accessible to as many people as I would like. It’s Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a therapy that increases oxygenation of the body including the brain. It is a chamber or tank filled with 100% pure, pressurized oxygen in which one sits or lies. The therapy is typically 90 minutes in duration, and there are different kinds of chambers. Some only fit one person (single place chambers), while others look more like a room and can fit up to 20 individuals (multi-place chambers).
HBOT has long been used in allopathic medicine with a wide range of uses: burns; major infections; wound healing, including diabetic ulcers; strokes; blood chemistry changes, such as “the bends” (a result of too much nitrogen in the blood) in scuba diving; carbon monoxide poisoning; and radiation injury, to name just a few. HBOT chambers are widely used in hospital settings. My husband used to be a navy diver and so he is very familiar with HBOT from his diving days. However, sadly, other conditions such as autism and Lyme disease is not on their approved list of conditions treated, leaving people to find private, independent clinics for this application. This can make the therapy quite expensive and cost-prohibitive for some. For others, it can be challenging to find a private clinic offering this therapy in a convenient location.
HBOT is so beneficial for so many neurological issues. Because what is being pumped into the chamber is pure oxygen and the pressure is several times higher than normal air pressure, the oxygen easily diffuses through the alveoli in the lungs and is absorbed into the body. The oxygen that is carried throughout your body can help to fight infection, so it does help to overcome the pathogens themselves when used for chronic infections such as Lyme disease. Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme, does not thrive in high-oxygen environments, so exposing it to high oxygen saturations will starve it out.
HBOT also promotes healing in areas of damage throughout the body. In areas of cell or tissue damage, the extra oxygen also stimulates the growth of new blood vessels, allowing better influx of nutrients to the cells. It also helps reduce inflammation, which is a major issue in chronic health issues.
Perhaps most importantly, HBOT can significantly contribute to neurological healing and function. Multiple studies have shown that it enhances the regeneration of axons, which are parts of nerve cells themselves.
It also increases growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing. The increase in vascularization in the brain through enhanced oxygenation also helps to improve the function of cells that may have lost function or become dormant due to blood stagnation, poor nutrition or the inflammatory process.
I have seen HBOT help people with many kinds of neurological issues, ranging from strokes to autism to Lyme disease. In my Lyme patients, it has made a significant impact on cognitive function, as well as psychiatric and psycho-emotional symptoms.
HBOT has multiple benefits. The increase in oxygenation in the body serves to reduce inflammation; it helps to overcome the infection itself by putting the bacteria in an environment in which they cannot survive; it increases the production of growth factors and stem cells that help regenerate damaged cells and tissues; and it increases healing in the central nervous system, for example, by enhancing the repair and regeneration of axons, which are needed to transmit nerve impulses.
People often ask me about the difference between hard-shell HBOT chambers and soft-shell (aka mild) HBOT chambers, and there is quite a significant difference. Hard shell chambers provide 100% oxygen at a high pressure, usually in the range of 2.0-2.8 atmospheres. Soft-shell chambers reach pressures of 1.0 to 1.5 atmospheres, nothing like the levels attained in the hard shell ones. Also, in mild HBOT, 100% oxygen is not being pumped in; it is ambient air.
To be fair, I have heard a few anecdotal reports of patients who experienced some improvements in their neurological health following mild HBOT treatments. They usually report improvements in energy levels, too. It does make sense to me that any increase in oxygenation in the body could provide some benefit. Certainly, soft-shell chamber treatments are less expensive, and some people actually install the units in their homes. However, if my patients are interested in HBOT, I strongly encourage them to jump in and use the hard chambers. There is so much more evidence in favor of their efficacy. Granted, HBOT is very time and money intensive, so it is not possible for everyone, but for those who can take advantage of it, I have seen it make a significant contribution to healing their brain and improving their neurological issues, including improved cognition and regulated emotional states.