The chances are you already know what Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is but don’t recognise it by name. You normally see it in underwater action films or documentaries as the process used to treat the bends in divers. The bends is a potentially fatal problem caused when deep-sea divers come up to the surface too quickly. Patients are placed in a pressure vessel that replicates the pressures the body endures underwater in a pure oxygen environment.
Surprisingly this process is recognised as an effective treatment for other problems such as wounds and sores that won’t heal. It seems the oxygen rich, high pressure atmosphere stimulates the healing process. However HBOT is being recommend by some doctors and new-age therapists as a treatment for a wide range of problems including autism.
The Hyperbaric Medical Centre of New Mexico under Dr. Kenneth Stoller, who is also assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, is one centre offering the treatment. Dr Stoller is firmly on the anti-mercury/thimerosal side of the “Does mercury cause autism?” debate.
When I first found out about HBOT I was extremely skeptical. There is no evidence it works with autistic childern and some proponents of HBOT promote a long list of conditions that HBOT can treat. I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is the longer the list of problems a treatment claims to help the less likely it actually helps. However it seems at least logical that increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain could stimulate neural growth and repair. Dr Stoller presented a paper, Hyperbaric Medicine and Brain Injured Children, to the US Government and contains some evidence to support his claims.
The one thing we can be sure about HBOT and autism is that there is no consensus or body of evidence to say it works. Anyone interested in pursuing this therapy should consider long and hard before undertaking this unproven treatment.
See also: FAQ from Hyperbaric Medicine Today magazine, The Age of Autism: Showdown in Santa Fe
- Overloaded? Mercury and Autism
- Ethyl Mercury Versus Methyl Mercury
- Different Types of Autism: Complex and Essential
- Autism Blogs