In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in every 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental condition that usually manifests in children around the age of three. Although it is not possible to cure autism with our current technology, it is possible to treat the side effects of the disorders with hyperbaric oxygen treatment therapy (HBOT).
Autism: A Lack of Oxygen
Studies have found that children with autism or autism spectrum disorders suffer from cerebral hypoperfusion also known as brain ischemia, or a decrease in the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain. Although the immediate cause of cerebral hypoperfusion in autistic children is unknown, studies have shown that the normal increase in blood flow to the brain associated with periods of high activity or increased metabolic rate may be reversed in those with autism. Consequently, a lack of oxygen at a time when the brain needs an increased supply of oxygen affects cognitive functions, the symptoms of which are associated with ASD.
For example, decreased blood flow and oxygen supply to the part of the brain known as the thalamus has been connected to repetitive, self-stimulatory autistic behaviors such as resistance to changes in environment or routine. Similarly, the inability to process facial expressions or recognize emotions has been connected to a decrease in blood flow to the temporal lobes and amygdala. Most ASD-like symptoms can be correlated with a lack of oxygen to specific parts of the autistic brain.
Oxygenating the Autistic Brain with HBOT
Because oxygen supply is dependent on blood supply, cerebral hypoperfusion leads to a phenomenon known as hypoxia, wherein cells are not provided with sufficient oxygen to function and essentially ‘short circuit’. Cells can remain alive but non-functioning (idle) for extended periods of time, unless hypoxia becomes extreme enough to result in cell death.
Consequently, because studies have found that people with autism have a degree of cerebral hypoperfusion, many also have a mild case of hypoxia. HBOT has been known to increase oxygen levels in ischemic brain tissue, potentially overcoming hypoxia and reinvigorating idle cells in order to lessen the effects of autism. These results were obtained when HBOT was administered at higher than normal atmospheric pressures and an increased percentage of oxygen and only noticed after multiple HBOT treatments.
The Inflamed Brain (and stomach)
Recent studies have also found that people with ASD suffer from neuroinflammation as well as gastrointestinal inflammation, although the effects of HBOT in treating inflammation are not as widely documented. However, HBOT treatment has been shown to possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which can potentially decrease symptoms similar to irritable bowel disease in people with ASD while simultaneously decreasing neuroinflammation.
How HBOT Can Give You H.O.P.E
Although HBOT is a relatively new treatment option for people with ASD, multiple studies have proven it to be successful in alleviating some of the symptoms of autism or other neurodevelopmental conditions. It can increase oxygen supply to ischemic brain tissue, reduce brain and gut inflammation, normalize the oxidant to antioxidant ratios in the body and remove harmful chemicals such as mercury. HBOT studies have also shown behavioral improvements in children with autism. While it is important to note that HBOT is not a cure for autism, it can still give you and your loved one H.O.P.E for the future.