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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for the Treatment of Autism

Published on June 1st, 2011 by Dr. Meghan Haggarty

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or HBOT is increasingly being utilized as a front-line therapy by physicians and naturopathic doctors in the treatment of Autism. The use of HBOT in the treatment of Autism was most popularized by the research of Dr. Dan Rossignol. Our naturopathic doctors introduced HBOT primarily to address a patient population presenting with complex neurological issues. After successful experiences treating Autism patients, the clinic has added Autism Spectrum Disorder to the list of conditions that it treats with HBOT.

How does HBOT benefit the Autism patient? Physiologically, HBOT accomplishes the following:

  • Increasing blood flow to areas of the brain that have been shown to lack blood flow in patients with autism. This increase in blood flow results in increased functioning in the areas of the brain responsible for language comprehension, auditory processing, sensory perception, and social interaction;
  • Decreases inflammation in the neurological system and gut improving cognitive functioning and addressing the digestive disturbances commonly seen in patients with autism;
  • Improves immune function;
  • Increases antioxidant enzymes and production of antioxidants resulting in decreased oxidative stress;
  • Mobilization of stem cells from the bone marrow which allows for the formation or new neurons and other brain cells; and
  • Increases oxygen delivery to mitochondria and recent research suggests HBOT can increase the production of mitochondria. This increases energy available at the cellular level.

The observable results for the patient and his or her family are typically as follows:

  • Increased social interaction
  • Decreased lethargy
  • Increased focus
  • Improvements in language comprehension
  • Decreased number of tantrums
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved communication skills

The popularization of HBOT as a treatment option has lead to development of HBOT-like treatments and facilities that do not abide by industry regulations. The proper delivery of HBOT is a complex combination of technical equipment, medically accredited training and safety regulations. Patients need to be vigilant in ensuring all standards are met in delivering safe and effective care and that treatments are supervised by a trained health professional such as a hyperbaric physician or naturopathic doctor.

DM is the mother of an 11-year-old boy with autism whose son is currently undergoing treatments at the Calgary Hyperbaric Centre. “We have tried many different things and hyperbaric oxygen has given my son new hope. We saw the benefit of HBOT around the 8th treatment with increases in focus and concentration. I have also noticed behavioural changes as he seems more relaxed in the car going to school/home. I am very hopeful to see more changes when he completes 40 treatments.”

Reference:
D. Rossignol, MD. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy might improve certain pathophysiological findings in autism. Medical Hypotheses (2007) 68, 1208–1227.

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