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Autism and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

March 13, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

It’s not easy to find encouraging news about autism. More often than not, we hear reports about the increasing rates of this devastating developmental disorder. It’s heartbreaking because many of us understand the challenges that those with autism and their families face. Autism is characterized by a profound disruption in communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal), an inability to interact socially and a propensity toward obsessive thoughts and behaviors. It is estimated that as many as 1 in every 150 children are affected by some form of autism – collectively referred to as ASD (autism spectrum disorders).

Today, I’m thrilled to be able to report optimistic news on the autism front. Please keep in mind that the research is preliminary. But, it’s a great start and hopefully it’s just the beginning of further exploration.

Autism Rates in USA

Oxygenating the Brain

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HPT) is a treatment that helps to increase the oxygen levels in organs and tissues. HPT is administered in a specialized pressure chamber. When receiving hyperbaric oxygen, you lie down in an enclosed capsule and the air pressure inside increases beyond that found in the atmosphere. This pressurizing effect allows the body to “absorb” more oxygen. Traditionally, HPT has been used for the treatment of conditions such as burns and wounds, decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Now, a new study published in the online journal BMC Pediatrics provides strong evidence for a new application to this veteran technology – the treatment of autism. Prior research hinted at the possible benefits of hyperbaric treatment in other neurological conditions such as brain injuries, cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. There were also several “uncontrolled studies” and many anecdotal reports of success with HPT in autism. All these clues allowed for this larger, better controlled (more scientifically valid) study to take place.

This groundbreaking trial enrolled 62 autistic children with ages ranging from 2 to 7 years. The children were split up into two groups. Both groups received 40 one-hour treatment sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. One group received a higher level of oxygen (24%). This was considered the “treatment group”. The other kids received a lower level (21%). This second group was used as a control/placebo group. The outcome of the trial was measured using standardized autism symptom tests.

  • The group that received the 24% oxygen showed improvements in several key symptoms, such as: maintaining eye contact, overall function, receptive language and social interaction.
  • 30% of the treatment group was rated as “very much improved” or “much improved”. Only 8% of the control/placebo group was classified in the same manner.
  • A total of 80% of the treatment group was considered “improved”. Only 38% of the control group met that same classification.

In addition, other benefits were noted when more specific testing was administered. Results from the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) and the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) revealed post-treatment improvements in the following areas:

  • cognitive/sensory awareness
  • hyperactivity
  • irritability
  • speech

You might wonder why the control/placebo group derived any benefit at all. There are two possible reasons. Firstly, the placebo effect is a real phenomenon. Secondly, even the control group received oxygen therapy. They just received less of it (21% vs. 24%). Therefore, it’s possible that even the lower dosage of oxygen was enough to provoke some benefit.

The authors of the study offered these concluding remarks, “Given the positive findings of this study, and the shortage of proven treatments for individuals with autism, parents who pursue hyperbaric treatment for their child with autism can be assured that it is a safe treatment modality at the pressure used in this study (1.3 atm), and that it may improve certain autistic behaviors.”

These new findings may very well herald a new day in the treatment of autism. Future research will help define the potential role of HPT in the treatment of autism and related disorders. I’ll keep a lookout for any updates that come down the pike. Until then, please share this information with anyone who may benefit from it.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health

7 Comments & Updates to “Autism and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy”

  1. Oxygen Therapy Says:


    Thank you for making this information available.

    I have a niece who has been diagnosed as autistic and a nephew who was born with severe asthma.

    I have long been suspicious that these childhood conditions are recent (as in the last 25 years) developments as I can’t remember children being so sick when I was younger.

    Please keep up the good work and continue to educate the public about these developments.

    Lynne Gordon

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Lynne.

    I wish you, your niece and nephew all the best.

    Be well!


  3. waleed Says:


    I have a son at the age of around four, suffers from the characteristics of autism and hyperactivity, I hope to provide me with the name of the hospital, address, e-mail for correspondence, because I want to treat my son


  4. JP Says:


    This site ( http://www.canchild.ca/en/canchildresources/hyperbaricoxygen.asp ) may be able to offer some guidance.

    Be well and happy holidays!


  5. JP Says:

    Update: NAC, a nutritional supplement, acts as a valuable adjunct to conventional care for autistic children …


    Clin Neuropharmacol. 2015 Jan-Feb;38(1):11-7.

    N-acetylcysteine as an adjunctive therapy to risperidone for treatment of irritability in autism: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of efficacy and safety.

    OBJECTIVES: According to the proposed interference of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) with pathophysiologic processes of autistic disorders (ADs), we aimed to assess the effectiveness and safety of NAC as an adjunct to risperidone in the treatment of ADs in a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial.

    METHODS: The participants were referred outpatients between 4 and 12 years of age with the diagnosis of ADs and a score of more than 12 on Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Community (ABC-C) Irritability subscale score. The participants were randomized into 2 groups. One group received risperidone plus NAC, and the other group received risperidone plus placebo. The dose of risperidone was titrated between 1 and 2.0 mg/d, and the dose of NAC was 600 to 900 mg/d. The main outcome was mean decrease in the ABC-C irritability subscale score from baseline at 5 and 10 weeks. Changes in other subscales were considered as secondary outcome measures.

    RESULTS: Forty patients completed the 10-week trial. Baseline characteristics including age, sex and body weight, as well as baseline scores in 5 subscales did not demonstrate statistically significant difference between the 2 groups. Repeated-measures analysis showed significant effect for time × treatment interaction in irritability (P = 0.01) and hyperactivity/noncompliance (P = 0.02) subscales. By week 10, the NAC group showed significantly more reduction in irritability (P = 0.02) and hyperactivity/noncompliance (P = 0.01) subscales scores.

    CONCLUSIONS: N-acetylcysteine can be considered as an adjuvant therapy for ADs with beneficial therapeutic outcomes.

    Be well!


  6. JP Says:

    Update 06/06/15:


    PLoS One. 2015 May 26;10(5):e0127012.

    Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can diminish fibromyalgia syndrome – prospective clinical trial.

    BACKGROUND: Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a persistent and debilitating disorder estimated to impair the quality of life of 2-4% of the population, with 9:1 female-to-male incidence ratio. FMS is an important representative example of central nervous system sensitization and is associated with abnormal brain activity. Key symptoms include chronic widespread pain, allodynia and diffuse tenderness, along with fatigue and sleep disturbance. The syndrome is still elusive and refractory. The goal of this study was to evaluate the effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) on symptoms and brain activity in FMS.

    METHODS AND FINDINGS: A prospective, active control, crossover clinical trial. Patients were randomly assigned to treated and crossover groups: The treated group patients were evaluated at baseline and after HBOT. Patients in the crossover-control group were evaluated three times: baseline, after a control period of no treatment, and after HBOT. Evaluations consisted of physical examination, including tender point count and pain threshold, extensive evaluation of quality of life, and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging for evaluation of brain activity. The HBOT protocol comprised 40 sessions, 5 days/week, 90 minutes, 100% oxygen at 2ATA. Sixty female patients were included, aged 21-67 years and diagnosed with FMS at least 2 years earlier. HBOT in both groups led to significant amelioration of all FMS symptoms, with significant improvement in life quality. Analysis of SPECT imaging revealed rectification of the abnormal brain activity: decrease of the hyperactivity mainly in the posterior region and elevation of the reduced activity mainly in frontal areas. No improvement in any of the parameters was observed following the control period.

    CONCLUSIONS: The study provides evidence that HBOT can improve the symptoms and life quality of FMS patients. Moreover, it shows that HBOT can induce neuroplasticity and significantly rectify abnormal brain activity in pain related areas of FMS patients.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Updated 06/26/16:


    Nutrients. 2016 Jun 7;8(6).

    Efficacy of Folic Acid Supplementation in Autistic Children Participating in Structured Teaching: An Open-Label Trial.

    Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are recognized as a major public health issue. Here, we evaluated the effects of folic acid intervention on methylation cycles and oxidative stress in autistic children enrolled in structured teaching. Sixty-six autistic children enrolled in this open-label trial and participated in three months of structured teaching. Forty-four children were treated with 400 μg folic acid (two times/daily) for a period of three months during their structured teaching (intervention group), while the remaining 22 children were not given any supplement for the duration of the study (control group). The Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) and Psychoeducational Profile-third edition (PEP-3) were measured at the beginning and end of the treatment period. Folic acid, homocysteine, and glutathione metabolism in plasma were measured before and after treatment in 29 autistic children randomly selected from the intervention group and were compared with 29 age-matched unaffected children (typical developmental group). The results illustrated folic acid intervention improved autism symptoms towards sociability, cognitive verbal/preverbal, receptive language, and affective expression and communication. Furthermore, this treatment also improved the concentrations of folic acid, homocysteine, and normalized glutathione redox metabolism. Folic acid supplementation may have a certain role in the treatment of children with autism.

    Be well!


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