The Healing Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is one of many alternative healing methods that’s breaking ground in health and wellness. This “new technology” was actually developed in the 1600’s, and back in the 1940’s hyperbaric chambers became standard medical treatment for decompression sickness for military divers suffering from “the bends.”

These days, hyperbaric chambers are being used for everything from wrinkles to cancer. Hollywood is in on it, with celebrity Keanu Reeves toting around a mobile chamber for health and sleep, and Michael Jackson used one for anti-aging.  

With simple chambers starting at $10K and specialized units costing over a hundred thousand dollars, it seems like yet another overpriced fad based on ridiculous notions. However, that’s not the case. The medical community has welcomed hyperbaric chambers. So much so, that around 2000 hospitals have hyperbaric chambers for HBOT treatments.

As of today, the FDA approves the use of HBOT for decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, gas gangrene, air or gas embolism, severe anemia, crushed tissues, compromised arteries, intracranial abscesses, soft tissue infections, radiation injury, osteomyelitis or chronic bone infections, compromised skin grafts, and acute thermal burn injury.

Because of the undeniable benefits that have been seen with hyperbaric chambers, HBOT is a common treatment for burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, bone infections, and chronic wounds like foot ulcers. In fact, medical treatments for ulcers from “diabetic foot” prevents tens of thousands of amputations, saving nearly $350 million in medicare costs every year.

How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy works

With radiation therapy, chronic wounds can develop in treated areas hit with radiation due to the destruction of blood vessels. In the case of infected wounds like “diabetic foot,” the nerve damage and poor circulation common amongst diabetics can lead to troublesome foot ulcers. When these ulcers aren’t addressed with an improvement in circulation (ie. healthy diet and exercise), they can become infected and require amputation.

Our blood serves as a transportation system that brings cells nutrients and carries away cellular waste, so traumatized tissues and compromised blood vessels pose huge problems. The potential rises even higher when damaged blood vessels from wounds and burns release fluids into our tissues that cause swelling. This swelling jacks up the oxygen deprivation of damaged tissues, and that can result in cell death in the entire affected region.

Now enters HBOT. The combination of concentrated oxygen and atmospheric pressure is why hyperbaric oxygen therapy promotes healing with such serious conditions. While the normal air we breathe is about 20% oxygen, the air in a hyperbaric chamber is up to 100% oxygen. In addition, the chamber is pressurized 1-3 times higher than normal atmospheric pressure.

The pressure is the key to HBOT’s success because it pushes oxygen-infused plasma throughout the body; thereby increasing circulation and oxygenating cells. In addition, hyperbaric oxygen therapy stimulates production of growth factors and stem cells which accelerate healing.    

Other uses for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

The FDA recognizes the benefits of hyperbaric therapy for fourteen conditions, but the true benefits of HBOT have barely been discovered. The International Hyperbaric Medical Association (IHMA) sees the potential of HBOT extends far beyond compromised tissues and circulation.

Neurologist Carol Hendricks has been using HBOT for neurological conditions inflicted on veterans from explosions. The idea of using hyperbaric oxygen therapy for brain trauma came to her eleven years ago after hearing European doctors speak of it’s impact on brain damage in stroke victims. She decided to try it with her patients suffering from “brain blast injury.” The effect? A full night’s sleep, a reduction (or complete loss) of recurring headaches, and improved mental cognition.

Serious conditions like cancer also stand to get some help from HBOT. According to Dr. David Jockers, it isn’t the magic trick to cure cancer on it’s own, but hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used as part of overall cancer treatment. HBOT paired with a ketogenic diet shows impressive results in cancer patients. In cases where patients were undergoing radiation therapy, HBOT was able to reduce inflammation, regenerate damaged blood vessels, and improve overall healing and rate of recovery. It’s very possible that HBOT could do more for cancer. Considering the FDA’s restrictions on hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a cancer therapy and the patent issues with hyperbaric chambers, it seems very likely.          

The studies and benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

In 2013, researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied the effect of oxygen on anti-inflammatory drugs and discovered that oxygen levels have a direct connection to the body’s level of inflammation. In 2014, a report published by Medical Gas Research concluded that the effects of concentrated oxygen on wrinkles shown to be “promising and effective.”

Doctors would surely point out that giving cells more oxygen to metabolize will produce more free radicals through oxidation. They’d also point out that these oxygen radicals can cause blood vessels to close up rather than to open. As with anything, there are limits and considerations to take into account, but the potential of HBOT is something that could extend far beyond the FDA’s approved uses.

Is it worth it?

HBOT clearly comes with huge potential that can be put to work in a wide range of areas. Of course, it’s smart to involve the help of a specialist as too much of anything (even oxygen) could become a bad thing. Plus, the technicalities of atmospheric pressure aren’t something to mess around with, so expert knowledge and experience is a must.

There are simpler soft hyperbaric chambers with lower risks that can be used as needed at home (following the advice of your health practitioner, of course). However, it’s important to know that these convenient soft chambers may not be have the same benefits as their pressure can’t get as high as more specialized units. With a pricetag of $10K and up, you’ll want to research the benefits for your condition to ensure a home hyperbaric chamber is worth the chunk of change. But when it comes to health, healing, and happiness — dollar figures often don’t mean as much.

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Resources for this article include:

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
 – Mayo Clinic
IMHF & IMHA Goals And Accomplishments – International Hyperbaric Medical Foundation
What Is A Hyperbaric Chamber And What Does It Do? – RehabMart
What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Good For? – Medical News Today
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy For Cancer Patients – Natural Health 365