We all need oxygen to survive – but what if you could use it to promote healing in your body?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of conditions, from decompression sickness to nervous system disorders.1 Despite its powerful benefits, HBOT is still relatively unknown.
At MaxWell Clinic in Nashville, we believe in offering a variety of science-backed therapies to truly maximize your health and well-being. In this article, we’ll discuss what HBOT is, its health benefits, and what you can expect during a treatment session.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
The term “hyperbaric” means high pressure. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing in 100% pure oxygen inside a pressurized chamber to enhance the amount of oxygen in your blood.
What makes HBOT effective?
When you breathe in 100% oxygen inside an HBOT chamber, the dissolved oxygen in your blood increases by 20-fold.4 This state of excess oxygen, called hyperoxia, allows your blood to supply oxygen to tissues that have been suffering from a lack of oxygen.
Because the oxygen from HBOT is in solution, it can even reach areas in your body that red blood cells can’t penetrate, like clots or blocked blood vessels.5
The effects of HBOT are based on three gas laws:6
- Boyle’s law states that there is an inverse relationship between the pressure and the volume of a gas at constant temperature. This means that as the pressure increases around you in an HBOT chamber, the volume of gas in any gas-filled space in your body will decrease.
- Dalton’s law states that in a mixture of gasses, each element exerts a partial pressure (its fraction of the total volume), the sum of which equals the total pressure. Therefore, high concentrations of oxygen at high pressure means the partial pressures of oxygen is significantly greater than under normal conditions.
- Henry’s law states that the partial pressure of a gas dissolved in liquid is equal to that of the gas in contact with liquid or tissue. An increase in pressure (and thus partial pressure) results in more gas being dissolved into blood and tissues.
In other words HBOT allows more oxygen to be delivered to your oxygen-deprived tissues. As we’ll see later, this can have powerful health benefits.
A Brief History of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
The first documented use of hyperbaric therapy was in 1662, when British physician Nathaniel Henshaw used it to treat pulmonary and digestive conditions.7
But it wasn’t until more than 200 years later, in 1871, that the first hyperbaric chamber was built in the United States.8 The chamber was used to treat patients with nervous system-related disorders, one of the conditions HBOT is still used for today.
HBOT gained widespread attention in the United States in 1921, when Dr. Orval Cunningham used it to treat victims of the Spanish influenza epidemic. He had noticed that patients in the mountains fared worse than those living at sea level and theorized that atmospheric pressure was responsible for their higher mortality rates. Patients he treated with HBOT made remarkable improvements.9
Applications of HBOT have continued to expand over the years. Today, HBOT is being used in thousands of clinics all over the world for a wide range of benefits. Let’s examine a few of these benefits below.
7 Health Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
HBOT is still used to treat decompression sickness in deep-sea divers and carbon monoxide poisoning. But HBOT can also be used to treat many other conditions – at least 132 have been documented – and the list continues to grow.10
Here are a few of the well-known benefits of HBOT.
1. Speed Up Wound Healing
Wounds damage your body’s blood vessels, causing fluid to collect in surrounding tissue and lead to swelling. The swelling, in turn, deprives cells of oxygen. Without oxygen, your body’s healing process comes to a halt as your cells and tissue begin to die.
It’s not enough to simply breathe in oxygen. To stimulate your body’s healing process, you need a concentrated flow of oxygen.
HBOT makes it possible to speed up wound healing. By flooding your tissues with oxygen, HBOT reduces swelling and allows oxygen-deprived cells to recover.11 Studies show that it can also stimulate your bone marrow to produce new stem cells that contribute to wound healing.12,13
Essentially, HBOT allows your body to heal from the inside out.
Studies show that HBOT prevents 75% of all major amputations for diabetic wounds and can boost recovery rate by up to 450% in patients with traumatic brain injury.14
2. Block Action of Harmful Bacteria
Stubborn infections can wreak havoc on your life with persistent symptoms that fail to respond to conventional therapy. Recent research has found that HBOT can serve as an alternative treatment for certain infections, such as chronic Lyme disease.15,16
In a exploratory trial conducted in 1998, a Texas A&M University scientist evaluated the effects of HBOT for 91 patients with Lyme disease. At the end of the trial, 85% of the patients showed significant improvements in their symptoms, and the benefits were sustained for up to 6 years.17
A 2014 case study from Taiwan reported the successful use of HBOT in treating a patient with chronic Lyme disease. After the patient had completed 30 HBOT sessions, the investigators reported the disappearance of the patient’s long-standing Lyme disease-related symptoms.18
Many bacteria species are either anaerobic (require no oxygen) or microaerophilic (require little oxygen). HBOT generates more oxygen free radicals, which can damage their DNA and block their functions. It is particularly effective against anaerobic bacteria, which lack the enzymes needed to keep the free radicals in check. Once the bacteria are damaged, they are vulnerable to your white blood cells.19
3. Improve Energy Levels
Your cells depend on powerhouses called mitochondria to produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Without ATP, life comes to a halt.
To create ATP, most mitochondria need to burn oxygen. But mitochondrial function declines over time, which scientists believe leads to aging and chronic diseases.20
HBOT can help revive your mitochondria by providing above-normal amounts of oxygen. A 2006 study found that HBOT increased the number of mitochondria in rat hippocampi, a region of the brain.21
In a human study, 16 patients with chronic fatigue underwent 3 weeks of HBOT. By the end of the study, the patients reported decreases in the severity of their symptoms and improved quality of life.22
4. Fight the Aging Process
In addition to boosting your mitochondrial health, HBOT has been shown to target two other hallmarks of aging: telomere length shortening and cellular senescence.
Telomeres are the “caps” at the end of your chromosomes. Like the plastic caps at the end of shoelaces that prevent their fraying, telomeres help maintain the stability of your genome.
Unfortunately, as your cells replicate (a normal, everyday function), telomeres get shorter. Although this happens naturally with age, several environmental factors can speed up the process, including:23
- Lack of physical exercise
- High body mass index
- Chronic inflammation
- Vitamin deficiency
- Oxidative stress
Once telomeres reach a certain length, cells progress into senescence, in which they can no longer replicate. Your immune system eliminates senescent cells, but an abundance of senescent cells can outnumber what it can do. Scientists believe the increase in senescent cells and the decrease in their clearance leads to aging.24
A recent study examined the use of HBOT for 35 healthy adults aged 64 years and older. Remarkably, HBOT increased the telomere length of certain immune cells by over 20% and significantly decreased senescent cells, demonstrating its anti-aging effects.25
5. Reduce Inflammation
Intermittent acute inflammation is a natural healing process in your body. But inflammation is supposed to be a temporary response.
What happens when inflammation doesn’t resolve? Chronic inflammation sets in, which has been linked to many diseases, including:26
- Heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Neurodegenerative disorders
HBOT has been found to reduce inflammatory markers in the body. In one study, HBOT reduced atherosclerosis in animals by dampening the immune response to inflammatory stimuli.27 Another animal study found that HBOT could reduce colorectal cancer risk.28
A study published in 2016 found that HBOT can also help patients with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. The investigators of the study hypothesized that HBOT increased the number of stem cells in the colon to aid in the repair process.29
6. Improve Your Immune Function
So far, we’ve seen that HBOT can improve your body’s ability to fight off infections, heal chronic wounds, reduce inflammation, and slow down aging. These are all signs of an enhanced immune system.
But what if your immune system is overactive or has started to attack itself? In these cases, “boosting” the immune system may be the last thing you would want to do.
Evidence from studies support the use of HBOT for the treatment of some autoimmune diseases, including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis30
- Crohn’s disease31
- Raynaud’s phenomenon33
- Multiple sclerosis34
To learn more about autoimmune diseases and why the conventional approach may not be working for you, read our article here.
7. Boost Your Antioxidant Levels
Too many free radicals in your body can damage your cells and contribute to many chronic health problems.36 Antioxidants help quench free radicals, but poor diet and environmental factors can quickly overwhelm antioxidants’ ability to regulate them.37
That’s where HBOT can help.
Studies have shown that HBOT can raise the activity of some antioxidant enzymes in your body, namely:38
- Glutathione peroxidase
- Superoxide dismutase (SOD)
What to Expect During Your Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Session
Today’s HBOT technology is designed to create a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Your treatment will take place in a clear chamber, where you’ll be able to see your surroundings. You’ll also hear the MaxWell Clinic staff as they monitor your treatment.
Once you’re in the HBOT chamber, you’ll be asked to recline and relax as the pressure and oxygen are increased to the prescribed doses. Each treatment session lasts from 60-90 minutes, though shorter sessions are possible.
The treatment is painless. As the pressure is raised, your ears may feel plugged as if you’re in an airplane. If you experience any other discomfort, a MaxWell Clinic staff member will be right there to assist you.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Nashville
MaxWell Clinic finds Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy to be an excellent therapy to do in combination with many of the other services and therapies we provide. If you’re a current MaxWell Clinic patient and are interested in HBOT, please discuss this with your clinician to learn more and determine if it’s right for you.
If you’re in the Nashville area and want to become a patient at MaxWell Clinic, we’d love to talk to you! Schedule your free 20-minute discovery call with our New Patient Coordinator to see how you can join the MaxWell family today.
We look forward to helping you restore your health and vitality.
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