Hyperbaric Medicine

Hyperbaric Medicine or Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (referred to as HBOT) is the delivery of oxygen under increased atmospheric pressure.  Though some claim a potential benefit from what is referred to as “mild hyperbaric therapy,” the medical community does not recognize HBOT as “medically therapeutic” unless treatment pressure is at least 1.5 atmospheric pressures with delivery of near 100% oxygen.  HBOT is used to treat a variety of health conditions in a very unique way due to the ability to oxygenate tissue even absent sufficient hemoglobin and circulatory pathways. Oxygen becomes infused into the many fluids in the body and is pushed to every living cell.

The increased oxygen under pressure is able to reduce inflammation, improve certain immune responses including combating bacterial infections, help the body rebuild collagen and cartilage, and speed healing through the release of growth factor and stem cells.  Research has shown that HBOT also speeds metabolism (which is why diabetics must be closely monitored because there can be a dramatic increase in the utilization of glucose during and up to two hours following a HBOT treatment).  Using mice, rats and dogs, further research has shown that HBOT increases the production of ATP-energy.  (These results have yet to be tested in humans which is why the standard response from the medical community is that there is not “sufficient evidence” that HBOT increases ATP [in humans].)

What we know:  Oxygen must be present inside the cell in sufficient quantities in order for the second, third and fourth phase of cellular respiration to occur.  It is during these last three phases, (Pyruvate Oxidation, the Krebs Cycle and Electron Transport Chain), that the majority of ATP is generated.  Oxygen must be present for the second stage to even begin.  Oxygen is also the final electron acceptor in the Electron Transport Chain, so it is also necessary for the full process of cellular respiration to be completed.  Thus, past glycolysis which is anaerobic (no requirement for oxygen), oxygen is both the beginning and the end…  The Alpha and Omega.

Without sufficient oxygen, these processes are completely blocked and the cell switches to anaerobic respiration / fermentation.  If this state persists long enough, it reaches the point of energy crisis.  Once NAD+ becomes fully depleted, fermentation also ceases. This ultimately can result in cellular, tissue and eventual organism death.  (See “What Are Mitochondria” for a full explanation of Cellular Respiration.)

HBOT provides an abundance of oxygen to every cell because the cells are forced to accept the oxygen via any adjacent bodily fluid via the mechanism of increased atmospheric pressure. Thus cells can become sufficiently oxygenated despite inadequate circulatory pathways or other biological impediments to oxygen delivery. Therefore, the theory behind HBOT increasing ATP production is that it provides the oxygen molecules that both initiate and perpetuate the complete process of cellular respiration which, absent other breaks in the chain of events, would necessarily increase ATP output.

Absent a handful of conditions that are contraindicated for Hyperbarics, there are few possible negative side effects for most patients.  However, most potential side effects can be successfully mediated by having HBOT administered by a knowledgeable practitioner.

MedScape has an excellent overview of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, also referred to as HBOT.

FDA approved “on-label” use of HBOT:

  • Air Embolism
  • Brain Abscess
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
  • Compartment Syndrome
  • Crush Injuries
  • Decompression Sickness
  • Failed Skin Grafts
  • Gangrene
  • Necrotizing Fasciitis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Radiation Injury
  • Retinal Artery Occlusion
  • Third Degree Burns
  • Wounds

Other conditions that may benefit from “off-label” use of HBOT:

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