For decades it has been used to treat divers with ‘flashes’ – potentially deadly nitrogen bubbles that can form in the blood if quickly exposed to deep water.
But pressurized cells that provide 100% of the body’s oxygen can also speed up the healing process, and they are now used for a variety of conditions, from diabetic ulcers to cancer damage caused by radiation treatments. Used to be.
It is also being investigated as a way to reverse aging.
Singer Justin Bieber has used it to ‘relieve stress’, while Sky News presenter Jackie Beltrao revealed on Twitter last month that she added it to her treatment for advanced breast cancer. One theory is that cancer may struggle to grow when the body is flooded with oxygen, although this is not proven.
However, research this month suggests that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), as it is known medically, may be a treatment for dementia.
Pressurized chambers that provide 100% oxygen to the body can also hamper the healing process.
The study, published in the journal Aging, found that when elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment — an early sign of dementia — had 90-minute sessions of therapy five days a week for three months, they had improved memory and brain function.
Although the study was small, with only six patients, the research by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel, who say it could become a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, delay or even reverse the condition. It is believed that it helps by improving blood flow to the brain.
HBOT allows more oxygen to be absorbed into the bloodstream and tissues. It helps reduce inflammation and encourages new blood vessels to grow, stimulating the body’s healing response.
Normally, oxygen is carried around the body by hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries it to organs and cells. But there is a maximum limit to how much it can transport; Each hemoglobin can bind with four oxygen molecules.
When you breathe in pure oxygen at a pressure equal to 14 meters (45 feet) under water, or 2.4 times higher than normal atmospheric pressure, it has been proven that instead of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, blood plasma (RBCs) The liquid (part of the blood) also absorbs large amounts of oxygen, allowing the whole body to absorb more.
In patients with dementia, it is thought to change the structure of blood vessels in the brain, and encourage new vessels to form, so more blood can be received.
Test results showed that blood flow to the brain increased by 16 to 23 percent after the treatment, while memory test scores increased by 16.5 percent, attention by 6 percent, and information processing speed by an average of 10.3 percent. With measurements taken before treatment.
Research out this month suggests that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), as it’s medically known, may be a treatment for dementia.
Although this research is still in its early stages, HBOT is already used to treat conditions ranging from difficult-to-treat foot ulcers to damage caused by radiotherapy.
There are seven NHS centers that offer it; It is also available privately and through charity-funded chambers. Some are single-person rooms in which you lie down and breathe the pressurized air around you, while others can hold about eight people and require patients to wear face masks.
A typical treatment lasts two hours – a course is usually 40 sessions, done five days a week, costing around £8,000.
However, there are only two conditions for which HBOT is approved for use on the NHS – the treatment of decompression sickness or ‘bends’ in scuba divers, and gas embolism, where bubbles of air or other gases accidentally enter the patient’s bloodstream. are presented. , either during surgery or being removed incorrectly by an intravenous line.
Sky News presenter Jackie Beltrao revealed on Twitter last month that she included it in her treatment for advanced breast cancer.
These bubbles can travel to the heart and brain and cause stroke-like symptoms that can be fatal.
‘Most gas embolism cases are unfortunately related to medical procedures,’ says Dr Peter Bothma, consultant for anesthesia and intensive care at James Paget University Hospitals, Norfolk, who is also medical director of the hyperbaric chamber at Whips Cross Hospital in London. . He says they are often caused by accidents or mismanagement of the central venous line – a tube placed in a major vein during surgery or to supply medicine, fluids or blood to patients in intensive care.
He says that a CT scan can diagnose a gas embolism and that if administered early (within hours), hyperbaric therapy can successfully treat the condition, adding: ‘Many cases remain unrecognized. Because doctors may forget or be unaware that a gas embolism is a cause of stroke. In addition to these two ‘approved’ uses, there are others for which there is strong evidence, including wound healing and diabetic foot ulcers, Dr. Bothma says.
‘Even with best practice treatment, diabetic ulcers are difficult to heal because there are problems with the blood supply to the area and this can lead to amputation,’ he explains.
‘When hyperbaric treatment is given in addition, the results are much better. This approach has been accepted internationally, but Public Health England says more research is needed, so NHS patients will struggle to get it.’
A review of 11 studies published last year in the Journal of Vascular Surgery found that the addition of hyperbaric oxygen therapy to diabetic foot ulcers resulted in ‘significantly fewer amputations’. The damage caused by radiation treatment can also be treated with hyperbaric therapy.
“Although modern radiotherapy for cancer is far more accurate than previously thought, healthy tissue can still be injured,” says Dr. Bothma.
This is the case with prostate cancer, where the treatment can damage the bowel or bladder,…