Although there are various treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS), hyperbaric oxygen therapy is one of the lesser-known treatment options on the market and is often considered an ‘alternative’ therapy choice. By understanding what MS is and how the disease affects the body, we are able to understand why HBOT can help treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and improve the day to day trials of those suffering from the disease.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, immune-mediated disease that affects the central nervous system and the relay of information both within the brain and between the brain and the body.
The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves which themselves are made up of neurons and nerve fibers. These neurons are coated in a fatty substance known as myelin, which acts as an insulator, a protective shield and helps speed up nerve transmissions.
When a person develops MS, their immune system is activated and sends out cells known as T cells to destroy certain proteins in the CNS that are viewed as dangerous. T cells respond to cuts and burns the same way they respond in MS – by creating an inflammation in the damaged area and calling more immune cells to the site of inflammation. However, unlike with a cut or burn, people with MS initiate an immune response against their own perfectly healthy bodies. It is not known why T cells are activated and sensitized against the CNS, but it is believed that both genetic and environmental factors may play a role in causing this immune-mediated disease.
What Does Multiple Sclerosis Do?
Once the body has initiated an immune response and begins attacking the CNS medical practitioners notice the following:
The severity of the disease varies between individuals, but in every case some degree of myelin damage is noticeable. The cells that produce myelin (oligodendrocytes) are also often damaged or even destroyed, preventing the production of more myelin.
Damaged myelin creates scar tissue known as sclerosis, which can be seen on an MRI.
Interrupted Nerve Transmissions:
When parts of the myelin sheath or the nerve fibers it protects are damaged, impulses travelling along the central nervous system are interrupted, distorted or slowed down. This leads to a variety of MS-like symptoms such as decreased visibility, tingling and numbness in the extremities or even mobility problems.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Multiple Sclerosis
In the United States the relationship between the medical community and HBOT is very controversial. However, many of the studies used to disprove HBOT were conducted over short periods of time (four weeks, for example) and on patients that had very little change of undergoing any noticeable change in such a short time frame. Consider the fact that HBOT is used to increase the amount of oxygen a person inhales, and in doing so their body is able to normalize oxygen levels in damaged tissues, such as nerve tissue damaged during an immune attack. Moreover, HBOT can re-energize MS patients by re-oxygenating tissue and thus decreasing fatigue symptoms.
Because HBOT is used to treat localized infections, it has been postulated that HBOT could also be able to treat the inflammatory attack that is multiple sclerosis. Introducing excessive amounts of oxygen into tissue cells exponentially increases growth rates and improves healing, which can decrease symptoms of MS and reduce relapses.
Reported Benefits of HBOT
- Reduction of fatigue
- Improved bladder control
- Increased mobility
- Stabilization of MS-like symptoms
- Increase duration between relapses
While there have been positive results in MS patients treated with HBOT, it is important to remember that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not a cure for multiple sclerosis and is instead a treatment method that can help alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease.