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The Research on Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

November 9, 2021
All Points North Lodge

You may have heard of HBOT before in a medical context. The acronym stands for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, an emerging oxygen therapy treatment that offers numerous benefits to patients. While there are many great uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for injuries and wounds, HBOT can also improve cognitive symptoms.

What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Used For?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat a variety of psychological conditions. Research confirms some neurological disorders also seem to respond well to HBOT.

Some of the mental conditions that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help with include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Memory problems
  • Brain fog
  • Addiction
  • Fatigue
  • Alzheimer's/dementia
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

HBOT treats these conditions in an "off-label" manner, meaning that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is officially approved for other conditions. However, the advanced treatment can help improve symptoms with those listed above, too.

How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Work?

This is a common question that many patients have when first hearing about HBOT. We have broken down the medical jargon to explain how HBOT works in simple terms so that you can feel confident and informed about your treatment options.

Provides Oxygen

Your body needs oxygen for more than just breathing. Oxygen has other vital functions in the human body, such as:

  • Replacing damaged cells
  • Helping cells make energy
  • Reviving muscle tissue after workouts
  • Fueling the heart
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Supporting eye function

We've established that oxygen is essential for our survival: without oxygen, every part of the human body will eventually fail. So how does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?

Saturates the Body

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy provides a higher concentration of oxygen than what's in natural air. The air that we breathe is typically only made up of around 21% oxygen. The rest consists of other naturally occurring gases, like nitrogen.

To achieve oxygen saturation, HBOT delivers 100% pure oxygen in a pressurized tank. Patients lay down in a sealed chamber for this procedure as purified air filters through the chamber, introducing a high oxygen concentration into your bloodstream.

While we all know that we need oxygen to survive, most patients might not know that extra oxygen has many therapeutic benefits. When the body has extra oxygen available, it's able to perform its essential functions more efficiently. But what else can hyperbaric oxygen therapy do for us?

Energizes and Heals

Your bloodstream carries the oxygen throughout your body. While our bodies need oxygen to make energy, it also assists in wound healing and tissue repair. When your body does not receive enough oxygen, it takes longer to heal injuries and illnesses.

The reverse is also true: HBOT can help speed up wound healing. This can be especially helpful for professional athletes, as hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps repair damaged tissue and fatigued muscles.¹ You can read more on the benefits of HBOT for athletes below.

HBOT for Addiction

Recovery is not an easy journey. Patients struggling with this disease need support in all areas of life to overcome and achieve long-term rehabilitation.

The best addiction treatment keeps up-to-date on the latest cutting-edge research regarding potentially helpful strategies and uses the forefront of scientific analysis as a guide. This guidance helps patients overcome the many physical, psychological, and emotional effects of addiction and recover better than ever before.

HBOT is a new-generation treatment that has been studied scientifically for its effects and benefits for those in addiction recovery. We use these findings to guide our HBOT treatment processes.

HBOT as a Treatment for Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms

A prominent study² in 1995 published results that indicate hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps treat addiction. The study treated patients experiencing active detox and withdrawal symptoms with HBOT. The control group was not treated with HBOT for comparison.

The findings were powerful: researchers discovered that patients treated with HBOT received numerous benefits, including physical, psychological, and lifestyle improvements. The patients treated with HBOT also experienced relief from detox and withdrawal symptoms.

HBOT patients recovered from detox and withdrawal symptoms nearly twice as fast as the control group. This indicated that HBOT not only managed many symptoms of addiction but significantly decreased each patient's recovery time.

Additional Research on HBOT for Detox and Withdrawal

The Russian study on HBOT for addiction is not alone in its findings. In a 2010 study³, researchers in Sweden treated mice who were in withdrawal from morphine with HBOT. They found that HBOT significantly reduced the physical signs of withdrawal in the mice.

Mice are frequently used in medical studies in place of humans. When an experiment is unethical to test on humans, mice are a suitable replacement. The anatomy and function of a mouse's body are similar enough to humans to model us in these studies.

The implications of this study are clear: HBOT-treated mice suffered far fewer side effects of withdrawal from a powerful opiate than the control group. Since withdrawal symptoms are often debilitating and can prevent addicts from seeking help and getting clean or sober, this therapy could provide relief where addiction patients need it most.

A client sits peacefully in the HBOT at APN Lodge as a technician sits close by outside of the chamber.

HBOT for Mental Health

Some academic literature exists that surveys the effect of HBOT on patients with psychological conditions. While science is still exploring the effectiveness of HBOT on mental health symptoms, there are some promising conclusions.

HBOT for Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are defined as psychological conditions that affect a person's mood consistently throughout their life. Some commonly known examples of mood disorders include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Substance-induced mood disorders

Doctors typically treat these types of disorders with medication and therapy.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy's effects on mood disorders aren't yet clearly defined; most academic research on HBOT for mood disorders, namely depression, is inconclusive. However, one academic literature review⁴ cites a study that showed improvements consistent with psychotherapy for depressed patients.

This means that HBOT patients with depression showed as much improvement as would be expected with therapy. There are other complex factors in these studies that we will examine.

HBOT for PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized as an anxiety disorder. PTSD results from highly traumatic events in a person's life. PTSD is extremely common in veterans, but anyone who has been through tragedy can develop this disorder.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety. While there needs to be more research that explicitly focuses on using HBOT to relieve the symptoms of PTSD, the initial findings on HBOT's effectiveness at promoting neuroplasticity are promising.⁵

HBOT for Traumatic Brain Injury

Many PTSD and mood disorder patients also have traumatic brain injuries. We discussed how HBOT is officially approved for healing bodily injury and wounds: the increased oxygen in your bloodstream significantly improves your body's healing process. The same is true for traumatic brain injuries.

TBIs can cause a lot of inflammation and immune system problems, and it makes sense that HBOT would treat these symptoms effectively. HBOT can have an incredible healing effect on TBIs⁶, which could be why patients with other psychological disorders experience improvements in their symptoms. However, due to the heterogeneity of traumatic brain injuries, it is hard to conclude whether HBOT is effective for psychiatric symptoms, and there needs to be more focused research.

HBOT Effects on Brain Function

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has specific benefits related to brain function. Breathing pure oxygen in such high concentrations is thought to have a protective effect on your brain. This could explain the "off-label" cognitive benefits of HBOT.

Improves Cognitive Symptoms

Many people suffer from cognitive and neurological issues. These issues are not always related to a medical condition; sometimes, lifestyle habits can contribute to cognitive problems or decline. Factors like sleep, physical activity level, and hormones can all affect cognition.

Some common symptoms of mild cognitive issues are:

  • Brain fog
  • Memory issues
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Poor mood (unrelated to a disorder)
  • Inability to focus
  • Unexplained insomnia
  • Unusual hormonal changes

This list is not exhaustive: many factors contribute to your overall brain health. These problems are often temporary and can be resolved with treatment. HBOT can help, but it is not guaranteed to fix your symptoms in isolation. Always consult a medical professional to discuss your cognitive symptoms.

Assists the Brain's Healing Process

If we understand the brain's healing processes, it's not difficult to understand HBOT's efficacy. This treatment has incredible potential to help with cognitive issues -- let's take a closer look at how HBOT affects your brain's existing healing mechanisms.

Every part of your brain depends on oxygen saturation and blood flow. When either oxygen or blood flow gets cut off from the brain, your brain cells begin to die rapidly. This causes brain damage and, eventually, brain death.

Capillaries are miniature blood vessels that connect arteries, veins, and tissues in your body. Your brain has a lot of capillaries that deliver oxygen and blood to vital brain tissues. When your brain receives ample amounts of oxygen, it improves blood flow, promoting brain health.

HBOT's Healing Potential for the Brain

We already know that oxygen facilitates healing in your body. The same is true in your brain: oxygen can restore brain function and heal neurological damage. That is why HBOT has significant neurological healing potential.

HBOT is said to build capillaries in damaged areas of the brain in a process called neovascularization. This process increases blood flow and oxygen saturation in your brain. Therefore, damaged brain tissues receive a new blood supply and can begin to heal.

The process of HBOT for neurological healing may look something like this:

  1. Oxygen saturation increases in your blood
  2. Your brain receives this abundance of oxygen
  3. Oxygen begins to build new capillaries in your brain
  4. The new capillaries deliver blood cells to damaged areas
  5. Your body begins to heal brain wounds

The key to this process is the new source of blood flow to your brain. While the research is still ongoing, it appears that HBOT can improve even mild cognitive issues. This makes sense when considering how the smaller areas of damage can cause brain fog, memory problems, and other cognitive symptoms.

An Olympic-hopeful athlete sits on the bed of a hyperbaric chamber at All Points North Lodge.

HBOT for Athletic Performance

Every athlete knows the pain of sore muscles and fatigue. It can be challenging to recover after strenuous physical activity, however, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help.

Repairs Muscle Tissue

During physical activity, your tissue experiences tiny tears throughout your muscles. Then, your body uses protein to rebuild the muscle. This is the process that bulks your muscles up after heavy lifting. As with any tissue in your body, oxygen and blood flow facilitate healing.

HBOT delivers supplemental oxygen and blood flow to the muscles, helping athletes recover faster. It can also ease some of the aches and pains from sore muscles. Many high-profile athletes use hyperbaric oxygen therapy after they perform.

Reduces Inflammation

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps to reduce the body's inflammatory response. When your tissues become severely inflamed, they cannot receive as much oxygen. This delays the healing process and slows down athletic performance.

HBOT is said to rejuvenate inflamed tissues by restoring the oxygen supply. Athletes benefit from reduced inflammation because they can get back on their feet quicker. The anti-inflammatory effect of HBOT also helps to heal athletic injuries.

The Consensus on HBOT

While researchers are still exploring the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, we are likely to see a lot of promising new information in the next few years. For now, the "off-label" benefits of HBOT are offering a lot of relief to patients struggling with a range of symptoms.

To recap, these are the potential benefits of HBOT that researchers have seen:

  • HBOT relieves withdrawal symptoms
  • HBOT improves symptoms of mood disorders
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy assists patients with healing from PTSD and TBI
  • HBOT improves cognitive function
  • HBOT assists in athletic recovery

More research is needed to conclude that HBOT is effective in all of these scenarios for every patient. Most of the skepticism surrounding HBOT is due to a lack of varied research, but this will change as more academic literature is published. The current literature has been overwhelmingly positive.

Many facilities across the country offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Personal anecdotes are exploding everywhere about the benefits of HBOT and supplemental oxygen.

At APN, we provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy to assist in your recovery. Whether you are suffering from withdrawal symptoms or need a performance boost on the field, HBOT can help. APN Lodge remains informed on the research for all of our treatments to give you the best experience in treatment for addiction, mental health, and trauma. We want to provide our patients with all of the options for a healthy, happy recovery. Get started on your healing journey today and reach out to one of our caring and compassionate representatives by phone at 855.235.9792 or via LiveChat.

 

Reference

  1. Bhutani, Sourabh, and Guruswamy Vishwanath. "Hyperbaric oxygen and wound healing." Indian journal of plastic surgery : official publication of the Association of Plastic Surgeons of India vol. 45,2 (2012): 316-24. doi:10.4103/0970-0358.101309
  2. Epifanova, N M. "Giperbaricheskaia oksigenatsiia v lechenii bol'nykh narkomanieĭ, toksikomanieĭ i alkogolizmom v postintoksikatsionnom i abstinentnom periode" [Hyperbaric oxygenation in the treatment of patients with drug addiction, narcotic addiction and alcoholism in the post-intoxication and abstinence periods]. Anesteziologiia i reanimatologiia ,3 (1995): 34-9.
  3. Bilkei-Gorzo, A et al. "Increased morphine analgesia and reduced side effects in mice lacking the tac1 gene." British journal of pharmacology vol. 160,6 (2010): 1443-52. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00757.x
  4. Feng, Juan-Juan, and You-Hui Li. "Effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on depression and anxiety in the patients with incomplete spinal cord injury (a STROBE-compliant article)." Medicine vol. 96,29 (2017): e7334. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000007334
  5. Hadanny, Amir, et al. "Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Induce Neuroplasticity and Significant Clinical Improvement in Patients Suffering from Fibromyalgia with a History of Childhood Sexual Abuse-Randomized Controlled Trial." Frontiers in Psychology, Frontiers in Psychology, 1 Jan. 1AD, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02495/full.
  6. Hu, Qin et al. "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for traumatic brain injury: bench-to-bedside." Medical gas research vol. 6,2 102-110. 11 Jul. 2016, doi:10.4103/2045-9912.184720

 

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