By Dr. Jason Sonners, DC, CHP, DCBCN
Clinic Director, HBOT USA, Inc.
In traditional medicine, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been proven to be a very safe and effective tool for a wide variety of conditions. After thousands of research studies, it turns out that with all the different conditions where hyperbaric therapy can have a positive impact, the mechanisms for success are similar. These include, but are not limited to, reduced inflammation, increased stem cell release, nerve and brain tissue healing, increased oxygenation, new blood vessel growth, toxin inhibition and improved mitochondrial metabolism.
How does Hyperbaric therapy work?
The reason we absorb oxygen when we breath is because of pressure. Even right now, as you are reading this, you are surrounded by an atmosphere and that atmospheric pressure is what forces oxygen into your body when you take a breath in. We do not feel the pressure, but it is always all around us. If you have ever gone up to altitude, like on a big hike, you may notice that it seems harder to breathe. Some people say there is less oxygen at elevation, but this is not exactly true. There is always 21% oxygen in the air we breathe. The reason it is harder to breathe is because there is less atmospheric pressure the higher we ascend, and less atmospheric pressure means less driving force of oxygen into or body. As a result, we absorb less oxygen with each breath. The opposite is true if we go below sea level; the “deeper” we go, the more pressure we are exposed to. This increase in pressure will increase the amount of oxygen we absorb as we breathe.
The total amount of oxygen your body can carry is proportional to the amount of pressure and oxygen we are exposed to. Under normal atmospheric pressure, when your body absorbs oxygen, that oxygen is carried and delivered to your tissues by red blood cells and very little oxygen is carried by your plasma, the liquid portion of your blood. Under hyperbaric conditions, those red blood cells will still be fully saturated with oxygen, but in addition the plasma will become a reservoir of “extra” oxygen holding more than it is typically able to hold. This extra amount of oxygen is now free floating in your blood and able to deliver higher than normal amounts of oxygen to your cells.
Hyperbaric therapy can be delivered in a multitude of different oxygen percentages and pressures—from low or mild hyperbarics with about a 30% increase in pressure and oxygen absorption up to relatively high pressure and oxygen levels 10-12x the normal oxygen exposure. The amount of pressure and oxygen used depend on the clinical goals for the patient.
What we know about children affected by autism
Every family with a child on the spectrum has a unique set of circumstances and health concerns. I am yet to meet two children (even from the same family) who needed the exact same treatment protocols. This makes the process and journey of recovery often a long a winding road for most families seeking answers.
According to the research, among children with ASD:
>70% have neuroinflammation
>75% have hypoperfusion to the temporal lobes
>80% have mitochondrial issues
>59% have gut issues
We also know that toxicity—including but not limited to heavy metals, pesticides, preservatives and mold toxicity—all play a role in the health of children affected by ASD.
What we do not know about ASD
Even though the above has been shown to be true in the research overall, knowing exactly which conditions each child has and in which order we need to work on them in is the most obvious clinical deficiency. Creating the priority and order of procedure is where the art of being in practice and clinical experience comes in. Some, but not all of these issues can be tested and measured objectively like using a SPECT scan for observing brain oxygen metabolism, or stool testing to better understand, diagnose and treat gut microbiome issues. There are some tests for mitochondrial issues, but the lack of definite specificity makes them less accurate than we would like to best understand mitochondrial disfunction. There are also tests for objectively measuring toxin loads in order to assess the need for detoxification being part of the healing process.
All of these factors—low oxygen levels, high levels of inflammation, gut microbiome imbalance, mitochondrial dysfunction and toxicity—can be helped through the use of hyperbaric therapy.
Looking for common denominators
Therapies can be broken into two main categories: targeted and systemic. Targeted therapies specifically treat a particular identified issue, while systemic therapies are those that are purposely delivered to the entire body for a full body experience. Both strategies have value and most doctors will want to use both at different times throughout the journey.
In order to decide on targeted therapies, we need to identify specific issues often through lab testing. Testing for all of the potential issues at the same time can be costly, time consuming and potentially invasive depending on which tests are chosen. Spending the time to try and prioritize the needs of the child in order to determine the most likely underlying issues is an important part of the process.
As noted above, the testing process can be difficult, expensive and time consuming. While it does have tremendous value, we are also looking for low invasive, low risk, high return types of interventions first. If we can offer single therapies that are safe, effective and have very broad reaching effects, we can often begin to see a positive healing response. This does two things: First it is therapeutic and begins to encourage healing within the child’s body, and second it is diagnostic and actually helps the helping identify what tests ought to be considered next.
Hyperbaric therapy is inherently safe and effective
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has a more than 350 year history of safely and effectively delivering an increased level of oxygen to the body and cells in need. Every cell we have (except for red blood cells) requires oxygen for optimal function. Our body uses that oxygen in order to burn fuel and make energy for each of our cells. In fact, the only reason we breath is to absorb and deliver oxygen to our cells for the purpose of making ATP or cell energy.
If we are not getting enough oxygen, it is impossible to make the appropriate amount of cell energy and that will have a negative effect on the tissue or organ that is low oxygen. Whether we are talking about hypoperfusion, mitochondrial dysfunction, toxicity or inflammation, all are capable of causing low oxygen levels in the various tissues in the body, not allowing those tissue or organs to function properly, heal properly, detoxify properly or process properly in the case of our brain.
Using hyperbaric therapy, we observe both short- and long-term categories of improvement:
- Short term: Within minutes of each session and for hours after the session, the body will have absorbed more oxygen than it typically gets. With that increase in oxygen the cells will be much more able to receive oxygen and process nutrients increasing metabolism and cell energy production.
- Long term: As a result of extended hyperbaric use, the body will begin to go through many changes. New blood cells will be created allowing better delivery of oxygen all over the body; inflammation will be reduced as well as the overall inflammatory response inside the body; growth factors will be release along with stem cell release increasing the ingredients the body requires to actually heal and recover. Additionally, intestinal function, liver function, toxin inhibition, improved immune system activation and microbiome balancing are all part of the longer-term benefits of prolonged hyperbaric use.
We all know that there is no single cure for ASD. Simplified, it is a process of removing as many of the ingredients that are causing inflammation and imbalance as we can identify and at the same time adding back all the necessary ingredients the body requires to heal, repair and ultimately recover.
Hyperbaric therapy by itself cannot cure this disorder, but it can absolutely add back Oxygen, one of the most foundational and important ingredients in the body.
Dr. Jason Sonners, DC, CHP, DCBCN
About Dr. Jason Sonners:
Dr. Jason Sonners is always working to integrate new knowledge and practical experience and is currently enrolled in the University of Miami School of Medicine earning his PhD in molecular biology with a concentration in regenerative medicine. In addition to his Doctor of Chiropractic, he earned his Diplomate of the Chiropractic Board of Clinical Nutrition (DCBCN) and his Diplomate of the International Board of Applied Kinesiology (DIBAK).
While serving on the faculty of the International Hyperbarics Association, Dr. Sonners is also a faculty member of MedMAPS, a group of professionals offering comprehensive education and fellowship to medical professionals for the care of children with autism spectrum disorders and related chronic complex conditions.
Dr. Sonners and his wife, Dr. Melissa Sonners, are co-owners of Core Therapies Family Wellness Center in Northern New Jersey, a holistic center where he combines Chiropractic, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Nutrition, Exercise, Detoxification programs and more to naturally support patients and guide them through their health challenges. Core Therapies also offers acupuncture, massage, infrared, sauna, spinal decompression, yoga and laser therapies. They are also the owners of NJ HBOT & HBOT USA.
Frye RE, Rossignol DA. Mitochondrial dysfunction can connect the diverse medical symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatr Res. 2011;69(5 Pt 2):41R-7R. doi:10.1203/PDR.0b013e318212f16b
Kong X, Liu J, Cetinbas M, et al. New and Preliminary Evidence on Altered Oral and Gut Microbiota in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Implications for ASD Diagnosis and Subtyping Based on Microbial Biomarkers. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2128. Published 2019 Sep 6. doi:10.3390/nu11092128
Bjorklund, Geir & Kern, Janet & Urbina, Mauricio & Saad, Khaled & El-Houfey, Amira & Geier, David & Geier, Mark & Mehta, Jyutika & Aaseth, Jan. (2018). Cerebral Hypoperfusion in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Acta neurobiologiae experimentalis. 78. 21-29. 10.21307/ane-2018-005.
Camporesi EM, Bosco G. Mechanisms of action of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Undersea Hyperb Med. 2014 May-Jun;41(3):247-52. PMID: 24984320.
Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, Catherine Lozupone, Dae-Wook Kang & James B. Adams (2015) Gut bacteria in children with autism spectrum disorders: challenges and promise of studying how a complex community influences a complex disease, Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, 26:1