Have you ever heard of HBOT, or Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
If not, you’re in for a treat!
It turns out this unique form of treatment can do wonders for a wide range of medical applications—from treating decompression sickness in scuba divers to slowing serious infections to accelerating wound recovery to addressing air bubbles in your blood vessels.
According to recent research, however, there’s a new use for it: treating traumatic brain injuries!
Below, we’ll take a closer look at what Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is, how it works, and what it can do for you. We’ll also dive into some of the recent studies linking HBOT to your brain health.
Let’s start off with the basics: what is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and how does it work?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a treatment in which you are enclosed in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, and the air pressure is increased to significantly higher (2-3 times) than normal. This increased pressure actually enables your lungs to absorb a great deal more oxygen than is possible at “normal” conditions. The increase of oxygen in your bloodstream can combat infection-causing bacteria and increase the activity of growth factors and stem cells that enable your body to make repairs to damage both internal and external.
The list of conditions currently treated by HBOT include:
Bubbles of air in your blood vessels (arterial gas embolism)
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Exceptional blood loss anemia
Infection of skin or bone that causes tissue death
Nonhealing wounds, such as a diabetic foot ulcer
Skin graft or skin flap at risk of tissue death
Traumatic brain injury
Vision loss, sudden and painless
(Information Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic )
If you read over that list carefully, you’ll notice “Traumatic Brain Injuries” or TBIs, were included. Research over the last decade has found that using HBOT can actually have a direct positive impact on your brain health.
In one study dating back to 2013 , patients suffering from TBIs were treated using HBOT. The researchers discovered that “significant improvements were demonstrated in cognitive function and quality of life following HBOT” and imaging identified “elevated brain activity in good agreement with the cognitive improvements”.
HBOT was shown to increase neuroplasticity--defined as “the brain's ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience”. HBOT actually helped the brain to repair “chronically impaired brain functions” and helped to improve the quality of life of those suffering from TBIs.
In another study from 2018 , patients who’d sustained TBIs (between 0.3 and 33 years before the study date) underwent HBOT, which led to “significant improvement in all of the cognitive domains”, including:
Verbal and non-verbal memory
Staged information processing speed
Wow! Talk about visible results.
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As the study explained, HBOT not only caused better brain tissue oxygenation, but increased the brains’ ability to repair itself on a cellular level, improved mitochondrial function, improved the blood-brain barrier, reduced inflammation, combatted cellular apoptosis (death), and alleviated oxidative stress.
All of these things stemmed from the exposure to higher-than-normal air pressure in an HBOT chamber.
But it’s not just TBIs that can be treated using HBOT.
According to the New York-based MD Hyperbaric Clinic , HBOT can be applied to a wide number of neurological and cognitive health problems, including:
Parkinson’s disease. HBOT can encourage the nerve tissues to repair, improve cognitive function, and reduce both the tremors and stiffness suffered by Parkinson’s patients. It may even be able to help restore motor deficits and reduce the depression and anxiety common with Parkinson’s.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. HBOT can increase brain metabolism, improve memory and attention, accelerate processing speed, improve blood flow to the brain, and enhance executive function. It can also improve the quality of life for Alzheimer’s/dementia patients by combatting anxiety, improving sleep, stimulating appetite, increase gross motor function, and facilitating activities of daily life.
Cerebral palsy. CP is often the result of insufficient oxygen reaching the brain at birth, but HBOT can help to treat the affected brain tissue (penumbra) by increasing oxygen levels. If not a cure for CP, it can help to manage symptoms, promote neurogenesis, attenuate the effects of hypoxia on the brain, enhance the proliferation and mobilization of stem cells, and increase neuroplasticity. It can also improve overall brain function and cognition.
Stroke. Following a stroke (blood clot blocking the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, leading to a dying-off of brain tissue), HBOT can help to stimulate angiogenesis, which will in turn create more circulatory pathways that deliver blood to the brain. This can not only help to promote recovery following a stroke, but prevent future strokes.
Multiple Sclerosis. HBOT may help to not only alleviate the symptoms of MS (a degenerative disease that attacks your central nervous system), but also improve functional ability. MS patients undergoing HBOT have noted improved motor function, better mobility, relief from pain, reduced inflammation, and increased mental clarity.
As you can see, there are a lot of amazing brain-specific benefits of using this treatment!
Not everyone will be well-suited to HBOT. Though the treatment is categorized as “generally a safe procedure" , there are some side effects you need to be aware of:
Barotrauma, or a collapse of your lungs due to the changes/increase in air pressure
Temporary myopia, or near-sightedness, resulting from changes to the eye lens
Oxygen toxicity, or too much oxygen in the central nervous system, which has been known to cause seizures
Injuries to your middle ear (such as eardrum rupture or fluid leakage) as a result of the changing air pressure
Lowered blood sugar among diabetics being treated using insulin
It’s important that you consult with your doctor to see if HBOT is the right therapy for you, or if it carries some risk that makes it unsafe for your specific health condition.
As you saw from everything above, HBOT has the potential to be a truly amazing means of treating (and possibly reversing) cognitive health problems. By increasing the amount of oxygen available in your body, it can stimulate stem cell and growth factor activity in your body, helping your brain to repair itself.
For anyone suffering from TBIs, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, CP, MS, or recovering from a stroke, it may be a medical route worth exploring.
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