Autism spectrum disorder refers to a spectrum of conditions in the development of the brain in children. The understanding of autism has been improving among the medical community and in some children, autism is a treatable condition. Autism doesn’t necessarily belong to the non-development or improper functioning of a particular part of the brain but to different parts of it and the body. This can be the central nervous system, organ specific abnormalities or dysfunctioning, immune dysregulation, inflammation, oxidative stress etc. In some studies on HBOT and ASD conducted by medical researchers, HBOT has shown significant improvement in cognitive and motor skills of children. ASD includes autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
Symptoms of autism
Following are the symptoms that most autistic children exhibit. Not everyone has all the symptoms, each child may be different in showing the symptoms.
- Delay in speech development
- Lack of social skills, being alone, not mingling with other kids or not playing with them. Some children remain in their own world.
- Lack of eye contact.
- Repetition of words and actions
- Reluctance to touch from everyone.
- Obsessive interests.
If your child is over a year old or 1.5 years old and not making eye contact or not responding to his/her name, see a doctor immediately and get him/her evaluated. The sooner the kid is evaluated and put under therapy, the better and sooner the improvement will be. ASD has been becoming an increasingly common problem in the United States. 1 in 110 children is being diagnosed to be autistic and the percentage has been on the rise.
About HBOT in brief
Normal atmospheric pressure is considered as 1 unit and the air we breathe has 20% – 21% oxygen. In a hyperbaric chamber, the patient is subjected to 100% pure medical grade oxygen at higher atmospheric pressures. 1.5 to 1.75 ATA is considered lower HBOT pressure and any pressure above 1.75 to 3 ATA is considered as higher HBOT pressure.
When a person is subjected to breathe pure oxygen at higher pressures, more oxygen is dissolved by the red blood cells (that carry oxygen to every cell in the body) and also in the plasma. The additional oxygen is usually more than 5 times more than the normal amount. This supplies every healthy tissue and cell with more than sufficient oxygen to help them repair or get better and enough oxygen for ischemic tissues in the brain to repair.
Here is what some research papers say about how HBOT helped people with neurological disorders:
- HBOT significantly improved the IQ of a 15 year old child who had fetal alcohol syndrome.
- Neuro protective effects were reported in some studies. (References – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3472266/#B8,
- Just oxygen supplementation has shown improvements in memory, cognitive performance, word recall and reaction time for 24 hours. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3472266/#B28
Effects of HBOT on cerebral hypoperfusion in ASD
Hypoperfusion means reduced flow of blood. Cerebral hypoperfusion means, less amount of blood flowing to the cerebrum of the brain. Lower blood means less amount of oxygen and that implies improper functioning of that part of the cerebrum. When this happens, people/children exhibit repetitive behaviours, inability to process facial expressions, emotions and hindered language development. These symptoms become more severe with age.
HBOT at lower pressures can help in supplying more oxygen to all parts of the body including the cerebrum. This could significantly improve cerebral perfusion in children with ASD. Behavioural improvements were also observed in children who underwent 40 to 80 sessions of HBOT over a period of 45 to 90 days.
Effect of HBOT on neuroinflammation in ASD
As mentioned, ASD can be caused due to neuroinflammation, immune deregulation and/or gastrointestinal inflammation. HBOT has shown good anti-inflammatory properties in both human and animal trials. HBOT decreased the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and increased the counter-inflammatory IL-10 levels.
Effect of HBOT on mitochondrial dysfunction in ASD
Mitochondria, the powerhouse of a cell. Mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to a variety of medical conditions including fatigue, weakness, metabolism problems, seizures, cardiomyopathy (pumping of blood becomes difficult for the heart), arrhythmias (irregular heart beat), developmental or cognitive disabilities, diabetes, impaired vision, hearing, growth, liver, intestinal or kidney functioning etc.
As per some studies in animal models, HBOT has shown improvement in mitochondrial function. (Reference – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3472266/#B96 ) HBOT increased the production of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate, the source of energy for use and storage in the cells), mitochondrial biogenesis and autophagy. As a result, the dysfunctional mitochondria was destroyed and new fully functional mitochondria was produced.
Effect of HBOT on Oxidative stress in ASD
Several studies reported oxidative stress in children with ASD. Theoretically, HBOT should increase oxidative stress due to the supply of excess oxygen but practically, it helped in production of antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, catalase, paraoxonase and heme-oxygenase 1. As a result behavioural improvements were observed in the children.
Though the research is limited, you can see that the effect of HBOT on autistic children is profound. We at Chennai Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy clinic recommend trying out HBOT sessions for your kids diagnosed autistic, to see significant improvement without administration of any medicines and along with the therapies recommended by your doctor.