Autism now affects an average of 1 in every 110 children born in the United States, as sited from the CDC's website. The disorder, which evades a “known” cause, is fast becoming an epidemic. Although the CDC (Center for Disease Control) makes no allowance for the involvement of vaccines in the development of Autism, many parents and physicians feel otherwise. Regardless of a known cause, many effective therapies have been developed and the puzzle pieces are slowly coming together. Each therapy has its own merit, yet no single therapy provides a complete answer; the best results have come from an integrated treatment protocol, including but not limited to dietary modification, sensory integration, speech therapy, detoxification, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Of the above synergistic therapies, mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy plays a unique role in restoring circulation to hypoxic brain tissue. Although not fully supported, mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy is fast becoming accepted as an essential component within an integrated treatment approach. Recent research and case studies have demonstrated that children on the spectrum display cerebral hypoperfusion and neuroinflammation. It has also been demonstrated that through undergoing consecutive hyperbaric treatments, inflammation can be reduced and hypoxic tissue normalized; thus resulting in the awakening of “sleeping neurons”. Further, hyperbaric oxygen therapy plays supportive roles in managing Candida and Disbiosis in addition to aiding the body in detoxification.
The Magic Number 40
Forty sessions has come to be a benchmark in this therapy, not solely in the treatment of ASD, but rather in treating all conditions characterized by hypoxic tissue. It is theorized that this is the number of hyperbaric treatments necessary to ensure angiogenesis has occurred. In the past, physicians would notice “backsliding” or regression with most patients who had undergone less than thirty sessions. On the other hand, patients having undergone forty sessions would not display symptoms of “backsliding”. Today, with new knowledge regarding increased stem cell activity and sophisticated brain imaging equipment, it is easy to paint a picture as to what was occurring. Recent research has demonstrated that after only ten sessions an eight fold increase in stem cell activity can be measured; in particular, CD34 stem cells which will produce new capillaries. The formation of such capillaries can be seen between 15-20 sessions and the completion of such capillaries appears to occur between 30-40 hyperbaric sessions; hence the Magic Number 40. Of course, this process is continually underway and new capillaries are just beginning at 20 sessions, 30 sessions, 40 sessions, etc. One would assume that as long as hypoxic tissue remains in the body; stem cell activity would remain heightened, angiogenesis would continue, and tissue perfusion would continue to normalize. In fact, in a study conducted with CP, stroke, and traumatic brain injury patients; it was demonstrated that throughout 70 sessions the rate of improvement in cerebral oxygenation increased during the last 35 treatments. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see treatment protocols continue beyond the initial forty-session sequence; parents are often advised 60-80 initial sessions prior to pausing, ending, or lessening the frequency of treatment.
Frequency is Key
There is much debate surrounding the optimal pressure in treating cerebral hypoperfusion related conditions such as Autism. Case histories and research both report positive findings from pressures ranging 1.2 ATA to 2.0 ATA. In addition, it becomes even more confusing as 100% oxygen is delivered in some instances, where as in others only ambient air is utilized. In fact, one could make… and many have, made cases for the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy at almost any pressure; with or without additional oxygen. It seems as if the most important factor is neither pressure nor oxygen concentration; rather frequency
! The most consistent restults have been demonstrated through daily and twice daily treatment protocols. In addition, three treatment days per week also appears to be a frequent enough regimen to maintain angiogenesis. In contrary, weekly treatments are not advised, except as maintenance protocol, as it is believed that stem cell activity will not be supported beyond a five-day lapse in therapy.
Results & Expectations
It is not uncommon to begin a new therapy with a certain degree of expectation. In fact, that is probably the first question that arises, “How will this benefit my child?” Research and case studies show the greatest improvements resulting from hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be seen in lethargy, communication, motivation, mannerisms, speech, sensory and cognitive awareness, and overall health. However, it is important to keep an open mind as to the potential of any treatment; just as there are many similarities between children on the spectrum, there are also many differences; one major difference being age. SPECT scans have shown trends towards greater cerebral hypoperfusion in older patients on the spectrum. Although similar results with therapy have been reported, these older patients have required a greater number of treatments.
A special note should be made that in many cases the children involved in research studies and case histories were simultaneously undergoing other result-oriented therapies. This is not to take away from the healing potential of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, rather to stress the importance of an integrated approach. A common misconception lies in the thought process that as soon as “sleeping neurons” wake up and begin firing, function should immediately follow. Although this may be the case in some instances, it is not necessarily the case in all. Here lies the importance of sensory integration therapies. Take for example this analogy of a stereo system as a brain.
Your stereo system seems to be having power problems. So you take it in to a professional and they inform you that the fuse is bad. You have the fuse replaced, take the stereo home and plug it in. Immediately the power comes on, but no sound! Then you remember that you didn’t reconnect the speaker wires.
The brain may be no different. Simply getting neurons to wake up and fire is not enough if they are not connected. Learning is a process that occurs over time, so why is it we should expect so much learning to occur in such a short period of time. For this reason, the real benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be hidden in the months post therapy; as the once “sleeping neurons” are integrated into the central nervous system.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy shows promising results in the treatment of Autism and other neurological conditions characterized by cerebral hypoperfusion. When evaluating research and case histories; the total number of treatments administered and the frequency of those treatments appear to carry the most weight in regards to achieving long-term results. Various pressures and oxygen concentrations have been utilized successfully; however a trend towards 1.3 ATA and 1.5 ATA with 100% oxygen are emerging in popularity. These trends are most likely due to the decreased potential for side effects at lower pressures and the decreased cost in equipment such as portable hyperbaric chambers
available to provide such treatment. Although hyperbaric oxygen therapy may very well provide results in and of itself; integrating other complimentary therapies should only be of benefit.
About the Author: Greg Harris is the founder of Hyperbaric Options LLC and has spoken publicly about health & wellness in various settings over the past eight years. Greg has a passion for human potential and is a firm believer that nearly all of the health problems we face today, from degenerative neurological conditions to the common cold, are preventable and reversible. As a health professional, Greg has a unique ability to connect the dots where others have left them scattered; it is this ability to integrate disciplines and think outside of the box that give his lectures and written materials a fresh point of view.
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