How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Works
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is defined as the use of oxygen under elevated pressure to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. The pressurized environment in a hyperbaric chamber allows a greater amount of oxygen to be dissolved into the blood stream. The increase of dissolved gas into a liquid is known as Henry's Law of Physics. As an example, when a carbonated beverage is canned at the factory, a great amount of pressure is applied so that more carbon dioxide can be dissolved into the liquid, causing carbonation. When the beverage is opened, the pressure is released. Over time, the amount of carbonation decreases, resulting in a "flat" beverage. It is the same law that applies to hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Greater amounts of oxygen are absorbed into the plasma, synovial fluid, and cerebral fluid when the body is pressurized.
Take a breath. The air you just took in is about 21 percent oxygen. The capillaries in your lungs pick up the oxygen, it dissolves in the plasma of your blood, and gets carried to all parts of your body. And 21 percent oxygen is usually plenty to do the job.
If you have a foot ulcer, for example, the effected tissue in your foot, and your entire body, could use even more oxygen. The white blood cells that fight infection in an ulcer use twenty times more oxygen when they're killing bacteria. Also, the more oxygen your body has to work with, the more efficiently it lays down wound-repairing connective tissue.
Yet, just when you need more oxygen, you may have less. If you have neuropathy (diabetic nerve damage), that may cause changes in blood flow, resulting in islands of low oxygen levels in your foot. Less oxygen means slower healing, and an ulcer that doesn't heal could eventually lead to an amputation. So, you should try to get extra oxygen in your blood when you have a foot ulcer. You need to bring the oxygen levels in the tissues around the ulcer up to normal, or even higher.
But, sitting in your living room and breathing in 100 percent oxygen won't do the trick. Under normal circumstances, only so much oxygen will dissolve in your blood. It's like trying to dissolve salt in water. When you pour a spoonful of salt into a glass of cold water, not all of the salt dissolves. Simply adding more salt doesn't make the water dissolve more salt. But when you pour a spoonful of salt into a glass of hot water, all the salt dissolves. At higher temperatures, more salt dissolves. What temperature does for salt in water, pressure does for oxygen in blood. At higher pressures, more oxygen dissolves.
Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy:
- Increases neuronal energy metabolism in the brain
- Can create sustained cognitive improvement
- Wakes up sleeping (idling) brain cells that are metabolizing enough to stay alive but are not actively "firing"
- Enhances the body's ability to fight bacterial and viral infections
- Deactivates toxins and poisons (e.g. side effects from some chemotherapy, spider bites, air pollution, etc.)
- Enhances wound healing by stimulating the growth of new capillaries into the injured area
- Creates an immediate aerobic state
- Removes free radicals
- Reduces tissue swelling
- Acts as an anti-inflammatory
Effects Of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Oxygen levels remain high in tissues for several hours after a treatment, which encourages capillary growth. New capillaries mean more blood gets to the site of concern, which speeds healing. High oxygen levels also make red blood cells more flexible so they can get through the twists and turns of the capillaries and get to where they're needed.
Although high doses of oxygen can produce a reduction in blood flow to normal tissue, this effect is more than made up for by the ten to fifteen fold increase in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the plasma. And sometimes you want less flow, as long as the flow is rich in oxygen, such as when your foot is already swollen. There are, however, some side effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
Inside our Fortius 420 Hyperbaric chamber, 100% oxygen is provided under elevated pressure for the duration of the treatment. During this time, all of the red blood cells become saturated with oxygen, but more importantly, all of the body fluids become saturated with oxygen. This includes the plasma (saturated up to 25x the regular amounts of oxygen) and the cerebral fluid. These fluids do not need the traditional pathway of the blood vessels and capillaries to deliver oxygen to the starved tissues. Gradually, the tissue that was only viable can begin to communicate and function normally due to the restoration of the oxygen supply. After a few treatments, eventually the tissues’ oxygen levels revert to the previous hypoxic (lower than normal oxygen levels) state, but an important event has taken place. The tissue has begun to communicate with the body again, and they communicate that there is a need for new blood vessels (angiogenesis) to be grown in the affected area. These episodes of high oxygenation (during treatment) followed by periods of low oxygenation (after treatment) stimulate the body to generate new blood vessels, and eventually make the recovery permanent.
In addition, this enhanced tissue oxygenation not only improves the blood supply, but also enhances tissue response to any other therapies the patient is utilizing (physical therapy, occupational therapy, anti-biotic, nutritional support, etc.), including the response of the immune system. In many cases, the enhanced tissue oxygenation itself inhibits the pathogen (infection) from continuing to increase. Further, the enhanced oxygenation allows the white blood cells to perform its abilities in reducing infection.
The pictures below illustrate a P.E.T. (Positron Emission Tomography) Brain Scan of a patient taken before and after hyperbaric treatments. The red shift in the after picture indicates increased brain activity, verifying the effectiveness of the treatment.