How to Use Hyperbaric Therapy for Autoimmune Conditions
July 1st, 2020
Have you heard of hyperbaric oxygen therapy? Although it’s getting more and more attention in the health space and becoming increasingly available (I even have a hyperbaric chamber in my home!), it’s a relatively little known therapy. However, I have found it to be incredibly helpful, both personally and with some of my more complex autoimmune patients. In fact, I literally treated an autoimmune patient who was wheelchair bound because her muscles were so weak, and after 20 sessions of hyperbaric therapy she was able to walk again.
If you are dealing with an autoimmune condition and have seen great improvement with the diet and lifestyle changes on The Myers Way®, yet have hit a plateau or your symptoms haven’t fully resolved, there are a number of tools and treatments that I look to next, and hyperbaric therapy is one of them.
Hyperbaric therapy can be a powerful tool for numerous chronic health conditions including autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative conditions, autism, traumatic brain injuries, and more, because it helps reduce inflammation, heal infections, and repair damaged tissues. And as more people have discovered its powerful health benefits, hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment centers have begun popping up just like cryotherapy and infrared sauna centers.
In this article I’ll walk you through what hyperbaric therapy is, its health benefits, and why I recommend it to certain autoimmune patients.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is the use of a special pressurized chamber to treat wounds, diseases and illnesses. Before it gained popularity, hyperbaric oxygen therapy was only available as a specialized treatment for people with the bends or decompression sickness (what scuba divers get when they resurface too quickly from the high-pressure deep under the sea to the much lower atmospheric pressure above water) or those with severe wounds.
The increased pressure inside the chamber allows extra oxygen into your body. The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen. The air inside one these chambers is 100% oxygen, and it has an atmospheric pressure two to three times greater than normal. As that oxygen reaches blood plasma, spinal fluid, bone marrow and tissues of the body, it has a healing effect.
There are 3 types of Hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers:
- Monoplace chamber – One patient at a time lies inside a clear tube breathing 100% medical grade oxygen at a specific atmospheric pressure for a designated amount of time. A specially trained hyperbaric technician monitors from outside the chamber. This is what you will find at most standalone hyperbaric therapy centers that are popping up.
- Multiplace chamber – More than one patient may sit in chairs or recline while receiving oxygen through face masks or hoods. A hyperbaric technician accompanies patients into the chamber to monitor them directly. This is the type that is typically being used in hospitals.
- Soft hyperbaric chambers – Otherwise known as mild hyperbaric chambers, these are “bags” made of polyurethane or canvas material. These chambers are less expensive and easier for people to use at home. These chambers do not have 100% oxygen like the other two hard-sided chambers. They are only able to increase atmospheric pressure, so may not have the same healing impact. This is the variety that I have in my home and what you may find at your physician or chiropractor’s office, or gym.
What Conditions Can Hyperbaric Therapy be Helpful for?
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 13 medical conditions for hyperbaric therapy that can be covered by insurance. The ones approved by the FDA include:
- Air or gas embolism
- Carbon monoxide poisoning and carbon monoxide poisoning complicated by cyanide poisoning
- Gas Gangrene – Clostridial myositis and myonecrosis
- Crush injury – compartment syndrome, and other acute traumatic ischemias
- Decompression sickness (The Bends)
- Enhanced healing of selected problem wounds
- Anemia – Severe blood loss from wound or severe trauma
- Non-healing Wounds – Necrotizing soft tissue infections
- Osteomyelitis (refractory)
- Delayed radiation injury (soft tissue and bony necrosis)
- Skin grafts and flaps (compromised)
- Thermal burns
- Intracranial abscess
However, there have been many studies done showing hyperbaric therapy can be used to treat a variety of conditions beyond this list. By raising oxygen levels in tissues where they have been lowered due to illness or injury, encouraging blood vessel growth, reducing swelling, and supporting your immune system, hyperbaric therapy can be helpful for a number of chronic conditions. Health practitioners throughout the world are successfully using this therapy every day to treat these “off-label” conditions.
Neurological Conditions and Brain Injuries
Hyperbaric therapy can improve oxygenation, new blood cell formation, and regenerative nerve growth in the brain, which is why it is a popular therapy among patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s, strokes, and traumatic brain injuries.
A study in 2009 also saw significant results in a clinical trial of hyperbaric therapy sessions with autism patients.1 The study found that autistic children who underwent the hyperbaric therapy saw marked improvements in receptive language, eye contact, social interactions, and sensory awareness compared to patients who did not.
Infections, Including Lyme Disease
Hyperbaric therapy is an established treatment for infections because it helps support your body’s natural defense mechanisms and can be particularly helpful for complex infections such as Lyme disease that are difficult to treat and can occur with co-infections. Lyme in particular is caused by a bacteria that thrives in a low oxygen state, so increasing your oxygen levels helps kill off the bacteria.
Mycotoxin or Toxic Mold Exposure
Because mold and mycotoxin exposure can lead to Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) in those who are genetically predisposed, hyperbaric therapy’s reparative and anti-inflammatory benefits are often utilized during mold treatment. And a study found that patients with mycotoxin exposure who were treated with hyperbaric therapy saw improvements in cognitive function.2
I used hyperbaric therapy when I became seriously ill from mycotoxin exposure while writing The Thyroid Connection, and it was a significant part of the puzzle in my recovery journey.
Of course, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can also be incredibly helpful for autoimmune diseases. Research shows success in treating patients with rheumatoid arthritis,3 scleroderma,4 Crohn’s disease,5 Raynaud’s,6 diabetes, lupus,7 and MS.8 I have also seen this evidence in my own clinic.
As I mentioned, I recommended it to one of my patients with a painful degenerative autoimmune condition who had seen great improvement after following my Autoimmune Solution Program but was still so weak that she relied on a wheelchair to get around. After 20 sessions of hyperbaric therapy she was able to walk tall into her next appointment. Her transformation was so powerful I get goosebumps just thinking about it!
Another of my patients had really severe psoriasis that had greatly improved though hadn’t fully resolved after treating her Candida overgrowth and optimizing her diet. She too underwent 20 hyperbaric treatments and her psoriasis completely disappeared.
Let’s take a look at why hyperbaric therapy can be such a great tool for those with autoimmunity.
How Hyperbaric Therapy is Helpful for Autoimmune Diseases
1. Reduces Inflammation
It’s important to remember, no matter what autoimmune condition is being treated or which tissues are affected, they are all diseases of the immune system. Your symptoms are a result of inflammation your immune system is creating in your body. Inflammation is an important part of your body’s natural reaction to injury and infection. However, in the case of autoimmunity, the inflammation has become chronic.
This chronic inflammation is a result of many factors, including leaky gut, an inflammatory diet, chronic stress, infections, and the toxins we are all exposed to on a regular basis. To treat, prevent, and reverse your autoimmune disease, you need to get your immune system and this ongoing inflammation under control. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be a powerful tool to reduce inflammation in your body.
Studies show hyperbaric oxygen has a greater anti-inflammatory effect than steroids! Hyperbaric therapy drives increased levels of oxygen into the bloodstream which travels through the plasma, resulting in reduced inflammation and pain. Studies show c-reactive protein and high levels of cytokines, both markers of chronic inflammation, can significantly decrease with hyperbaric therapy.9
2. Kills Infections
Hyperbaric therapy is an accepted, well-established treatment for serious infections,10 and healing infections is an important part of the Autoimmune Solution protocol. Harmful microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungus can be contributors to your body’s autoimmune response. Hyperbaric therapy can be particularly effective for infections of anaerobic microbes that cannot survive in active oxygen.
Hyperbaric therapy is also thought to improve the function of leukocytes, a type of white blood cell. The increased oxygen supply increases their ability to remove bacteria and debris from your body. White blood cells are major players in your body’s immune response, and an increase of oxygen actually stimulates the production of more white blood cells. This is good news if you are fighting infection.
3. Repairs Damaged Tissue
We know that with autoimmune disease our body is mistakenly attacking our own tissues. It could be the tissues of the thyroid gland, connective tissue, joints or nearly any part of your body. The wonderful thing about oxygen is that it can aid in the repair of these damaged tissues.
Over time, the combination of increased oxygen and increased pressure can help undo the damage to tissues and organ function. hyperbaric therapy saturates the blood plasma with oxygen, which, in turn, reaches the areas of damage with greater efficiency, providing cells and tissues with the oxygen needed for repair.
Hyperbaric therapy also enhances the growth of new blood vessels. Vital to the healing process, blood vessels carry the blood containing the cells and nutrients that enable healing. Not only that, they also remove damaged cells, debris and foreign microorganisms from our body. Research shows hyperbaric therapy treatment significantly increases the number and actual size of blood vessels in damaged tissues and wounds.
Although hyperbaric therapy is not FDA-approved for autoimmune diseases, there are many facilities around the world that will treat “off-label” conditions such as these. You can even purchase your own hyperbaric therapy chamber to use at home as I did. The one I use and recommend is Oxyhealth and you can speak with their team to learn more at (657)-227-4523 if you’re interested in getting one as well.
There are so many incredible benefits, I even recommend using hyperbaric therapy for general health and wellness and prevention of disease. The Myers Way® programs are always your first step to overcoming chronic illness, however, recovery can be significantly enhanced by using a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.