The many uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is used worldwide to treat a variety of illnesses, and tremendous research already supports these uses.

by Dr. Nael Dagstani — 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has many more uses than treating scuba diver decompression sickness, otherwise known as the bends. In fact, there are 13 FDA-approved uses for hyperbaric oxygen, and many more conditions have proven to be beneficially affected by HBOT. A recent landmark study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and led by Stephen Thom, M.D., Ph.D., found that HBOT has a dramatic effect on the number of stem cells in the body, doubling the concentration after only one treatment and increasing the number by eight-fold after 20 treatments.

HBOT, a system of delivering 100 percentage oxygen at pressures from 1.3 to 3 times that of normal atmosphere, is medicine’s most efficient method of transporting oxygen to the body’s cells. At this pressure, oxygen, which is normally delivered to tissues via the hemoglobin in red blood cells, dissolves in all of the body’s fluids — the plasma, cerebrospinal fluid in the brain and spinal cord, and lymph. It is then easily transported to all tissues, even those with a poor blood supply.

As an illustration of what happens during HBOT, picture a bottle of soda. Carbonation occurs as the result of a gas being forced into a liquid under pressure. Before the bottle is opened, no carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles are seen. As soon as the lid is removed, however, the bottle fizzes and CO2 bubbles become clearly visible. Initially, the beverage is sealed under high pressure, causing virtually all of the CO2 to dissolve into the solution.

Our atmospheric pressure is not heavy enough to allow gases to dissolve into liquids; so once a soda has been opened, it goes flat after a while. The same principle applies to HBOT: breathing 100 percent oxygen under high pressure causes the oxygen to dissolve into the body’s fluids. As a result, there is a 10- to 15-fold increase in the concentration of oxygen in the body, resulting in a dramatic increase in oxygen delivered to the cells.

Shortly after HBOT, people often experience more energy, a sense of vitality and clearheadedness. But that is not the lasting therapeutic effect. The true healing impact of HBOT occurs after several to many treatments and is explained by several mechanisms:

  • Hyperoxygenation: supports poorly perfused tissue, which helps in wound healing and stroke recovery.
  • Neovascularization: the growth of new blood vessels at the capillary level.
  • Antimicrobial activity: oxygen is toxic to many bacteria, viruses and mycoplasma. HBOT often is used along with antibiotics to treat certain bacterial infections and mycoplasma (a common cause of chronic fatigue syndrome).
  • Direct pressure: HBOT is primarily used in the U.S. to treat decompression illness in divers by reducing the size of gas bubbles in the bloodstream.
  • Vasoconstriction: narrowing of the blood vessels occurs without loss of oxygen delivery to the tissues because HBOT delivers highly concentrated oxygen to every cell in the body. This particular mechanism is helpful in injuries involving swelling, because it has the dual beneficial action of reducing the swelling and increasing the oxygenation of tissues.

In the U.S., the 13 FDA-approved uses for HBOT include: air embolism, carbon monoxide poisoning, complications from radiation therapy, crush injuries, decompression sickness, enhancement of healing in certain problem wounds, exceptional blood loss, anemia, gas, gangrene, intracranial abscess, necrotizing infections (popularly known as “flesh-eating disease”), osteomyelitis (bone infection), skin grafts and flaps, and thermal burns.

HBOT is used worldwide to treat a variety of illnesses, and tremendous research already supports these uses. In fact, more than 30,000 scientific studies document its use. Over the next few years, the documentation will reach the point where the double-blind studies are likely to validate many more treatments.

Some of the more intriguing and essential uses of HBOT presently in effect both here and abroad include: near drowning; stroke; Lyme disease; coma; cranial nerve disease; peripheral neuropathy, as often seen in diabetes; delayed wound healing; diabetic retinopathy; tendon and ligament injury; accelerated healing from surgery; ulcerative colitis; multiple sclerosis; macular degeneration; and RSD/causalgia.

In Japan, the majority of the population is within 30 minutes from a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. In Europe, HBOT is the very first treatment for stroke; in fact, most European hospitals have HBOT chambers. And a hyperbaric hospital in Moscow has large hyperbaric rooms that can hold 30 to 50 people at a time.

Hyperbaric oxygen is an excellent therapy in and of itself. If one chooses to use it in conjunction with other modalities, healing may occur even faster — offering a viable solution to patients with chronic conditions who would otherwise have little hope of recovery.


Dr. Nael Dagstani is a naturopathic physician practicing in Phoenix. He is a general family practitioner with specialties in hyperbaric oxygen therapy, pain management through prolotherapy and mesotherapy, fat and cellulite reduction, and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, including hormone pellet therapy. 602-955-0117.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 6, December 2006/January 2007.

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