When Damien was 24 years old, he was on vacation with his family at Lake Mead, Nevada, when he dove off the back of a pontoon boat, hit the bottom, and broke his neck. He woke up in a hospital 10 days later, hooked up to a ventilator and unable to move. He underwent a number of surgeries, including a spinal fusion. When he left the hospital three months later, his doctors told him that except for a twitch in his left bicep, he would have no movement from the neck down for the rest of his life. They were wrong.
Two-and-a-half years later, Damien was popping wheelies in his wheelchair, doing leg presses with 160 pounds, taking halting steps with a walker, and feeling 100 percent convinced that he would walk again. His road to recovery began after he got out of the hospital and into an intensive rehabilitation program. But, he got an extra boost when he came to Whitaker Wellness Institute for hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
HBOT Benefits the Central Nervous System
HBOT is an extensively studied therapy that’s been around for decades. Although it’s administered in special chambers that look like something out of a sci-fi movie, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is actually fairly low-tech—it simply involves breathing 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized environment. (Hyperbaric means “at pressures higher than normal atmospheric pressure.”) But for disorders of the brain and central nervous system (CNS), HBOT consistently produces better results than any other therapy.
All neurological traumas, whether they’re caused by stroke or an injury to the spinal cord or head, have many things in common. The initial injury triggers swelling and inflammation in the brain and/or spinal column, which hampers blood flow and oxygen delivery. This leads to the accumulation of metabolic waste products, which further aggravate swelling and inflammation, starting a vicious cycle of oxygen deprivation and damage. Neurons at the site of injury begin to die within minutes, but those in the surrounding areas go into a state of “suspended animation.” These are the cells that can be awakened by HBOT.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Boosts Circulation and Promotes Healing
Every time you undergo a hyperbaric oxygen treatment, your cells, even those with little or no blood supply, are flooded with oxygen. This is because when you breathe 100 percent oxygen under pressure, all of the body’s fluids and tissues are saturated with oxygen. This influx of oxygen is to dormant neurons what rain is to parched plants.
The benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy go far beyond raising oxygen levels during a treatment. The increased pressure in the chamber also facilitates the draining of excess fluid and toxic waste products. It stimulates the growth of new capillaries that restore circulation and oxygen delivery—even after you’ve left the chamber.
HBOT Increases Stem Cell Activity
HBOT also signals the production of growth factors and hormones that repair damaged neurons. In addition, it increases stem cell mobilization by an astounding 800 percent. These cells, which we all carry in our bone marrow, are able to differentiate, or transform, into a number of different cell lines. In other words, hyperbaric oxygen therapy promotes the growth of brand-new neurons!
The combination of these mechanisms explains the remarkable recovery and return of function seen time and again in patients with brain and spinal cord injuries, stroke, and degenerative neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
Scans Show Brains Waking Up After HBOT
A few years ago at the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) conference, Paul Harch, MD, a researcher and associate professor from Louisiana State University School of Medicine reported on his use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the treatment of neurological and intellectual disabilities.
Dr. Harch presented dozens of case histories of patients with stroke, head injury, autism, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and other chronic neurological problems. He documented them with before-and-after SPECT scans, which monitor blood flow through the brain. Prior to hyperbaric oxygen treatment, scans of the affected areas were dark, indicating poor circulation and impaired metabolic activity. After treatment with HBOT, the brain literally lit up with dramatic increases in blood flow. In virtually every case, SPECT scan changes mirrored clinical progress.
Here at the clinic, we don’t use SPECT scans to track progress in our patients. In my opinion, the expense is unwarranted. It’s like proving that the earth is round over and over and over again. What we’re looking for is functional improvement, and our patients get it in spades.
HBOT Benefits Wounds, Parkinson’s, Stroke, and More
Some of the patients we treat at Whitaker Wellness have difficult wounds or ulcers, usually caused by diabetic neuropathy, and the healing power of HBOT has prevented many an amputation. Others have burns, surgical incisions, or infections and are looking to speed up healing. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also extremely effective for these conditions.
However, most of our patients have issues with the brain or CNS. We also see a lot of people with Parkinson’s disease, who generally experience improvements in gait, mobility, rigidity, sleep, and other symptoms. We’ve treated hundreds of stroke patients who were told by their doctors that they’d just have to learn to live with slurred speech, a permanent contracture of an arm, or an inability to walk without a walker. Yet after a course of HBOT, in combination with physical therapy, they’re back on the road to health.
Proving Doctors Wrong—Again
The most dramatic recoveries are seen in patients like Damien, who have the most to gain. When he first starting coming to the clinic for hyperbaric oxygen treatment, he had so little muscular control that he was unable to sit up and required a reclining wheelchair. At first, progress was measured in terms of twitches—he recalls sitting for hours and hours trying to get a calf muscle to contract. But he stayed motivated; worked very, very hard in physical therapy several hours a day, five days a week; and kept on coming in for regular HBOT treatments. And over time, it all started to come together.
HBOT is not a magic bullet. Some patients come in expecting a miracle with only one to two hours in the chamber. As hundreds of other patients will tell you, it is often a long process that requires lots of effort and motivation. But with hyperbaric oxygen plus physical therapy, hard work, perseverance, and a good attitude, miracles do indeed happen.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Summary
HBOT’s only downside is its availability and expense. A fair number of hospitals have hyperbaric oxygen chambers, but they charge $1,000 to $2,000 per hour of treatment. (We charge $200 per hour.) Yet even if you could afford hospital-based HBOT, these facilities use it with only a fraction of the patients it could help. They do not and will not use it for any of the health concerns discussed above.
Your best bet is to find a private clinic that offers HBOT. But don’t get your hopes up. This simple, safe, highly effective therapy is still invisible to the overwhelming majority of conventional doctors. To learn more about receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy at Whitaker Wellness, call (866) 632-8890 . For a listing of other clinics that offer HBOT, visit hbomedtoday.com.
One word of caution. I know of physicians who use only a modest enrichment of oxygen (about 30 percent) mixed with air and small increases in pressure in soft plastic tanks. While this therapy may have some benefits, it’s definitely not HBOT.