How it works: Until more is known about the cause(s) of autism, the holy grail of treatment is to create new neural connections to overcome the apparent lack of typically functioning network linkages in both sensory and motor pathways. Various areas of the brain have been identified as “suspect” for inflammation, size/volume differences (including increases due to swelling and decreases due to poor growth), blood flow and toxic deposition. One way or another, oxygen under pressure does increase the amount of oxygen which is dissolved into your blood (not only the O2 that is always attached to a hemoglobin molecule in a person’s red blood cells). This is the extra oxygen that is supposed to nourish sick areas of the brain to improve blood flow, oxygenation of tissue and theoretically to promote new growth.
How else it works: There are additional improvements that patients experience when exposed to HBOT. First, the gut can become healthier, especially in children who (1) have not had intensive G-I evaluations and treatment, (2) there has been resistance to the usual probiotic and anti-fungal treatments, or (3) the patient suffers from frequent recurrence of fungal infestations or other intestinal problems. Yeast and nasty bacteria generally do not like living in the atmosphere created by the hyperbaric environment. Additionally, there is often a lack of sensory integration and other behaviors related to seeking proprioceptive input that affect most autistic patients. Temple Grandin discovered that a simple ‘squeeze machine’ made her feel less anxiety. Behavior analysts (and parents and professionals) have known for years that weighted vests, small spaces and deep hugs help calm affected children. Pressure such as the kind that is felt in a hyperbaric chamber must feel very satisfying to many patients.
Most recent clinical research (Entries will be updated from time to time and when needed):
Improvement was seen… in the treatment group compared to controls in overall functioning, receptive language, social interaction, and eye contact; 30% in the treatment group were rated as “very much improved” or “much improved” compared to 8% of controls; 80% in the treatment group improved compared to 38% of controls. …significant improvements were observed in the treatment group in total score, irritability, stereotypy, hyperactivity, and speech, but not in the control group. In the treatment group compared to the control group… a greater number of children improved in irritability… sensory/cognitive awareness significantly improved in the treatment group compared to the control group… children over age 5 and children with lower initial autism severity had the most robust improvements. Hyperbaric treatment was safe and well-tolerated.
No differences were detected between HBOT and placebo groups across any of the outcome measures. The present study demonstrates that HBOT delivered at 24% oxygen at 1.3 atmospheric pressure does not result in a clinically significant improvement of the symptoms of Autistic Disorder.
Two research protocols utilizing mild HBOT. There were various differences in study design and implementation, to be sure, but one with positive results in multiple areas, and the other with improvement – in both control and placebo groups – that is to say, no difference from the HBOT.
“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?” (A.Einstein)
Up next: more medical stuff