HBOT Offers Treatment Alternatives for Autism

A hyperbaric oxygen chamber

There is currently no cure for autism spectrum disorders and standard treatment options focus on improving behavior and reducing symptoms. Because of this, many physicians look for alternative treatment options that offer additional help. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment, or HBOT, is one such alternative that shows great promise in treating autism. By treating damage and inflammation in the brain, HBOT targets the source of the condition. As a result, many researchers, parents, and those living with autism see amazing results.

What is Autism?

A Doctor viewing brain scan images

Autism advocate and researcher Dr. Stephen Shore said it best when he said, “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.”

Autism is not simply one condition, by a variety of different subtypes influenced by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Even the challenges and symptoms vary from patient to patient. These challenges include speech and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors, and social skills. However, it does not always affect intellect. 44 percent have average to above average intellectual ability.

HBOT shows promise in helping improve speech, communication, and social skills. In addition, it helps with repetitive and aggressive behavior. If you would like more information on how HBOT and Dr. Spiegel can help, give our office a call today or click HERE to fill out our online contact form.

Autism begins in early childhood, with many children receiving a diagnosis around the age of two. It often includes additional diagnoses with other medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders, seizures, and mental health issues such as attention deficits, anxiety, and depression.

Signs and Symptoms of Autism

Autism spectrum disorders vary and so do the symptoms. On the spectrum, you have one person who is highly functional and communicates relatively well while another person may not have any form of verbal communication. While some children may show signs of autism in early infancy, such as a lack of response to family, others may develop normally for the first few months or years, only to later become withdrawn or lose previously learned language skills.

Signs of autism spectrum disorder vary but break down into two main categories: Social communication challenges and restricted or repetitive behaviors.

Social Communication Challenges

  • Difficulty with spoken language. Many with autism are nonverbal
  • Problems understanding conversational cues, such as gestures, making eye contact, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
  • Inability to recognize or show emotions
  • Often overwhelmed in social situations
  • Trouble taking turns in conversation. They may try and talk over the other person.
  • Problems gauging personal space

Repetitive and Restricted Behavior

  • Repetitive body movements, such as rocking, spinning, pacing
  • Obsessive focus on lights or spinning objects
  • Repetitive motions with objects, such as flipping switches or spinning items
  • Ritualistic patterns – objects must be in a specific place or in a specific order
  • The need for a regular and strict routine, including things like meals, mealtime, bedtime, specific clothes, etc.

Many people on the autism spectrum also have sensory issues. This includes an over or under-sensitivity to things like lights, pain, sounds, tastes, smells, etc.

Early signs in infants and young children can include not babbling or smiling, no interest in interactive play, not responding to their name, upset by loud noises, avoiding eye contact, repetitive behaviors, and not developing language skills.

How is the Brain Affected By Autism?

graphic of a brain with brainwaves

The direct cause of autism spectrum disorders is unknown, though they believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors affecting the brain. Recent research discovered many differences in the brains of people with autism, ranging from increased inflammation to a surplus of synapses, or connections between brain cells. Researchers believe that something affects the development of brain cells at some point during development. Whether it is before or after birth is still a question. Autism affects various parts of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, brain stem, basal ganglia, corpus callosum, and the cerebellum.

Research studies show that autism spectrum disorder affects the brain in a variety of different ways.

Temporal Synchrony Between Brain Regions

One common symptom of autism is the inability to tolerate exposure to stimuli, such as sounds or light. Researchers, led by Dr. Jeff Anderson at the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City, published a study looking at what happens in a stimulated brain and how autism responds differently to stimuli. For this, they turned to the complex circuitry within the brain.

Using functional MRI (fMRI), they scanned 90 males, 52 with autism and 38 without. All participants were between the ages of 19 and 34. In addition to their direct participants, the researchers also looked at fMRI data collected from 1,402 people were a part of the Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange Study. Of those, 579 had autism.

What the researchers focused on was the duration of connections established across different brain regions. What they discovered was that in people with autism, the connection duration continues for a much longer period of time than in someone without autism. While connections disappeared quickly in neurotypical persons, the connections in brains with autism lasted for up to 20 seconds. There was also a connection between symptom severity and the extended time of connection. The researchers concluded that this prolonged temporal synchrony was a potential cause for some of the core symptoms of autism. Connections staying for longer durations may be the limiting factor making it difficult for someone to shift from one stimulus to another, causing a sensory overload.

Too Many Synapses

neurons

During infancy, there is a burst of synapse formation in the brain. This is particularly true in the cortex, where thought and information processing occurs. In neurotypical brains, pruning of these synapses occurs eventually. This essentially eliminates half of what was formed. A 2014 study led by neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center examined the brain tissue from 26 children and young adults with autism and 22 without.

Looking at samples of cortical tissue, they discovered that by late childhood, those without autism saw a drop in synapses by half while those with autism showed a drop of around 16 percent. They also discovered that the autism brain cells contained damaged parts and did not show normal signs of autophagy, or cell breakdown.

Inflammation and Immune Dysfunction in the Brain

Scientific studies over the last few decades suggest that inflammation and immune dysfunction all play a role in autism.

A 2014 study from John Hopkins and the University of Alabama at Birmingham looked at brain tissue from 72 autism and control brains. What they discovered was that all the autism brains showed high levels of an immune response. In the autism brains, researchers discovered that microglial cells, the immune cells of the central nervous system responsible for fighting pathogens, always stayed activated. This continual activation resulted in continual inflammation.

A 2011 study looked at differential cytokine release between children with autism, neurotypical children, and children with other developmental disabilities. They discovered a significant increase in plasma cytokines in children with autism. Increasing cytokine levels correlated with more severe communication issues and behaviors.

HBOT proves to reduce inflammation, possibly helping to improve social, repetitive, and restrictive behaviors in autism.

Changes in Blood Flow

Red blood cells

In order for the brain to function, it requires regular blood flow and the delivery of oxygen. In autism, researchers found that standard blood flow is altered in many different ways.

A 2011 study discovered a significant reduction in cerebral blood flow in the frontal, temporal, limbic system and basal ganglias in the brains of autistic children as compared to neurotypical children.

A 2015 study shows that there are unstable vessels in the brains of those with autism that prevent normal blood flow and oxygen delivery. In autistic brain tissue, the cellular structure of blood vessels is constantly fluctuating and affects neuroplasticity.

A 2019 study found increased blood flow to the white matter of the brain. Researchers believe the increased blood flow in the white matter is an attempt to compensate for problems and deficits with neurons in the brain. The study discovered that lower NAA concentrations (markers for healthy neurons) marked higher blood flow rates in those areas.

HBOT has been shown to help improve neuroplasticity and promote strong blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain. It also can improve structures within the white matter of the brain.

Not Just the Brain is Affected by Autism

While autism is typically known as a condition affecting the brain, it can also affect other areas of the body. One major connection is to the gastrointestinal system. Studies have shown that those with intestinal issues often display increased autism symptoms and behaviors.

A 2018 study by researchers at the University of California, David MIND Institute looked deeper into that connection. They looked at a combination of children, including ASD children with GI problems and those without as compared to neurotypical children with and without GI conditions. They found that the ASD children with GI issues had high levels of inflammatory cytokines while both ASD groups showed low levels of a protein that helps regulate the immune system. The study also showed that the ASD and GI group had different gut flora than the others.

Current Treatment Options for Autism?

Autism currently has no cure and no approved treatment for the core symptoms and causes of the condition. Current treatments focus on helping social interaction and increasing independent function. Some behavioral treatments include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), occupational therapy, Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), and speech therapy.

Medications can target specific symptoms, such as seizures, anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity. Risperidone was the first FDA-approved medication for autism, and it targets behavioral symptoms such as aggressive behavior and self-injury. Another medication, Aripriprazole, is FDA-approved for the treatment of irritability.

Other alternative treatments include dietary changes, chelation to remove heavy metals in the body, or deep pressure therapy.

Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy, or HBOT, is also growing in popularity as an alternative treatment for autism that is showing great results!

How HBOT Can Help with Autism

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Research shows that individuals with autism have high levels of inflammation, immune system malfunctions, reduced or erratic blood flow, and low oxygen delivery.

While a person relaxes in a hyperbaric chamber, HBOT delivers high concentrations of oxygen at increased pressure levels. This delivers increased oxygen to areas that have been starved, helping to promote normal function. As the increased levels of oxygen enter the body, inflammation decreases. Blood vessel growth and health are stimulated, helping to promote normal blood flow and oxygen delivery. In addition, HBOT has been shown to help boost the normal immune system function. In addition to helping conditions in the brain, HBOT also benefits those with gastrointestinal issues.

For people with autism, HBOT can improve cognitive and sensory awareness, improve sleep, reduce aggressive behaviors, reduce hyperactivity, and help advance social interactions. Give us a call today or click HERE and see how HBOT and Dr. Spiegel can help you or a loved one!

For example, researchers connect reduced blood flow in the brain to repetitive behaviors and impairments in communication. By increasing the blood flow and oxygen delivery to these areas of the brain, HBOT helps reduce these core autistic symptoms. Treatment with HBOT shows benefits in language, increased awareness, and a reduction in behaviors.

Studies Show HBOT Effectiveness With Autism

Adjusting settings on hyperbaric oxygen chamber

Numerous studies over the last few years looked at the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders.

A 2009 multicenter, double-blind study looked at 62 children with autism from six different centers, all within the ages of 2-7 years, and how hyperbaric oxygen helped. After 40 HBOT sessions, the children showed significant improvement in overall function, receptive language, social interaction, and eye contact.

A 2012 paper released looked at a collection of different HBOT and autism studies performed throughout the years. Some of the key results they noted include:

  • HBOT can improve cerebral perfusion (blood flow) that is often connected to repetitive behavior, lack of facial expression and emotion, and decreased language development.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy provides potent anti-inflammatory properties. Those with autism have neuroinflammation, immune dysregulation, and gastrointestinal inflammation. Studies show that HBOT decreased the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and neopterin levels, as well as reduced C-reactive protein levels, a biomarker for inflammation.
  • HBOT addresses mitochondrial dysfunction commonly associated with autism. HBOT treatments help destroy dysfunctional mitochondrial while helping to promote the growth of healthy mitochondrial through an increase in the production of antioxidant enzymes.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps reduce oxidative stress associated with autism. By increasing the production of antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, HBOT helps protect against oxidative stress.
  • Treatment with Hyperbaric oxygen shows significant behavioral improvement in autism. Researchers note an improvement in behavior, memory, social interaction, language and verbalizations, cognitive function, reduction in repetitive behavior, increased eye contact, improved motor skills, and gastrointestinal complications to name a few.
  • No significant adverse events. Aside from some reports of mild ear discomfort, none of the HBOT studies reported any significant adverse reactions or side effects from treatment, making it a safe treatment option.

Parents Speak Positively on HBOT and Autism

A man receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy

No one knows more about the everyday behavior and symptoms a child or adult with autism face than their parents and loved ones. This is why the Autism Research Institute has been collecting parent ratings on the usefulness of treatments each year. In 2009, Hyperbaric oxygen ranked high in positive effects on behavior and symptoms in persons with autism. Of the 219 cases treated with HBOT in 2009, 65 percent of parents reported an improvement in symptoms.

Parents report results such as improved sleep, increased attention span and awareness, and increased conversational language and verbalization. Parents also report improved eye contact, better emotional understanding, increased independence, and greater self-confidence.

As a parent, you want what is best for your child. If you are interested in learning how HBOT can help and make a difference, contact us today to set up an initial consultation with Dr. Spiegel and his team.