The story of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
April 3, 2021
The story of HBOT
We are made up of cells, these cells make up a tissue, which makes up an organ, which drives our body. Imagine legos that are little components of a larger structure that you might have played with as a child. The legos are our cells and the building, ship, etc that you built was the organ. These legos, or cells need energy to work. Delivering oxygen to these cells is what allows energy to be made at the cellular level.
Oxygen is essential for healing, regeneration and function of every cell within the human body. It is a miraculous tiny molecule that when delivered to a cell within your brain, heart, muscle, joint, skin, etc.. will allow ATP, or energy to be formed so the cells that make up your brain, heart or digestive system can heal. In the brain this is particularly exciting because it not only allows cells to heal and regenerate, but it also gives them the extra energy needed to create the extra stuff! An example of that is neuroplasticity, which is the formation of new connections and strengthening pathways in the brain that are essential for our brain’s proper and speedy signaling, communication and overall function. After a concussion, this communication slows down in many areas, and neurons become unstable, producing many of the symptoms experienced after a concussion.
The story how oxygen gets there is as follows - when pressure is applied within a hyperbaric chamber at levels greater than 1.0 ATA, we can drive more oxygen into our blood. At 2.0 ATA of pressure we can drive oxygen 400% deeper into our tissues. Under normal conditions, most oxygen in circulation is carried by red blood cells (RBC) as they are the transport vehicles necessary to take oxygen from our lungs into our blood to reach our cells. However, with HYPERBARIC PRESSURE, we no longer require RBC to transfer oxygen from our lungs to our blood stream - oxygen diffuses directly into our blood stream without any RBC help necessary. This creates supersaturated concentrations of oxygen in our blood stream that no longer requires transportation. Not only do we maximize the carrying capacity of RBC’s that still deliver oxygen to our cells, now we have much more, free-floating and smaller oxygen molecules that are forced deeper into our tissues at a much higher concentration (oxygen diffusion gradient) and can “slip through the cracks” if you will and penetrate areas that are starving for oxygen (hypoxia). This process is the application of Henry’s Law of Gases, which states that as pressure increases, so does the ability for oxygen to dissolve into a liquid, our plasma. Physics once again to save the day!
Hyperbaric pressure —> Henry’s Law—> Oxygen from lungs into Plasma—> Bypasses RBC’s—>supersaturated amounts of O2 in our blood stream —> Increased energy production at the cellular level—> healing cells, more energy, better function= Healthy
The increased pressure pushes oxygen further into our tissues, which is a major tenant of how HBOT works, but there are other incredible healing properties that are generated from HBOT as well.
- Reduces inflammation. Acutely it reduces swelling and inflammation through its ability to cause vasoconstriction while still yielding higher net amounts of oxygen as tiny oxygen molecules can still pass through smaller blood vessels, even when constricted. This reduces leakage of injured vessels that are responsible for acute inflammation. It is also extremely important in chronic inflammation as it changes how we response to cytokines and other inflammatory mediators by down-regulating genes that are involved in this process as discussed in 2. It also decrease pain directly by releasing endogenous opioids, or naturally produced molecules that decrease pain in our body. Not to be confused with the opioids that are provided pharmaceutically.
- Epigenetics. HBOT alters genetic expression by turning off bad genes that cause inflammation as described above and programmed cell death, and turning on, or up-regulating good genes that turn off inflammation and genes that stimulate growth. We are only partially controlled by our genetic makeup, our genotype, but it is how those genes are expressed that makes up our phenotype, or the outward expression of those genes that makes us who we really are. We are not controlled by our make-up and have the power to change that, HBOT facilitates this process.
- Improves all stages of wound healing through - anti-microbial processes and activating neutrophil and macrophage activity which is our first stage of wound healing.
- It causes an exponential increase of stem cells from the bone and neurologically within our brain. These stem cells are essential to healing.
- Reverses hypoxia.
- Improves function of our autonomic nervous system that is often involved with people suffering from neurological symptoms, especially after concussion and brain injury. This system controls where and when blood flow will be delivered and problems often manifested as brain fog, light-headedness, dizziness, headaches/migraines. This is known as autonomic dysregulation.
- Detoxification. Helping to rid our bodies of waste and harmful materials that decrease our function.
- Anti-aging. Decreases senescent cells, which are associated with cancer, aging and inflammation. It has been shown to increase telomere length, which is an overall determinant of our chromosomal health.
- It stimulates the formation of new blood vessels, known as angiogenesis to promote long-term blood flow and oxygen delivery. Extremely important in heart injury and brain injury such as stroke.
- Promotes Neuroplasticity through topics discussed in 1-8, which is extremely important in the treatment of concussion, post-concussion syndrome, stroke, anxiety, depression, PTSD and other brain associated conditions.
Hyperbaric creates a variety of physiological changes that revitalizes and regenerating tissue, rebuilding the proper, healthy scaffolding that makes us feel our best. It can be used as a preventative measure, or used for healing neurocognitive issues such as concussion/TBI, post-concussion syndrome, stroke, migraine, headache, depression, anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks, lyme disease and more. It is extremely helpful in the healing of tissues from injury such as burns, cuts, post-surgical, athletic injury, whiplash, and more. There is research to support all of this and evidence is growing. Any injury (minus a few contraindications), eternal or internal can often be improved by the use of HBOT.