Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) and its role in Chronic Stress Management
Hyperbaric oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is used for patients with severe infection, tissue injury, blocked blood vessels, and accumulation of poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide in the blood. This therapy provides a high amount of oxygen to the patient. Usually, our air contains 21% oxygen, but in HBOT, a rich amount of oxygen is provided, even in some cases 100% oxygen. The air pressure in HBOT is also greater than average, which allows the oxygen to diffuse more profoundly into the body. A hyperbaric chamber may be designed for one person or more. In every case, the result is the same .
A rich oxygen supply under high pressure causes cells to repair and new growth due to improved circulation and stem cell development. It helps to minimize inflammation and improve the immune system. For decades, HBOT has been used for several diseases. But it is considered an effective therapy for patients with stress disorders.
Stress effects on body
In our daily life, there are many situations when we feel worried or tense about something. Our body’s natural reaction is to protect itself in any alarming case. Our body produces stress hormones, and ‘the fight or flight response activates to prepare us to deal with the situation. But this harms health if repeated. Acute is a temporary phase and does not leave much negative impact on health.
When stress keeps disturbing one’s life for more extended periods, it becomes dangerous for the body and mind. Stress in the longer term is known as chronic stress. P. Priyanka, a psychiatrist, defines chronic stress as a significant and consistent problem or multiple interchangeable problems for a longer period. It usually stays more than a month.
Chronic stress is of three kinds, including emotional anxiety, relationship stress, and work stress.
The chronic system does not show similar symptoms in all individuals. Their symptoms differ in different individuals.
Chronic stress affects cognitive functioning including memory, problem-solving, and decision-making.
Chronic stress leads to mood changes. If left untreated, it causes phobia, anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Chronic stress affects the physical condition badly, causing poor appetite, low energy, insomnia, and body aches. Our body produces a stress hormone called cortisol in stressful situations, which initiates headaches, stomach issues, increased heartbeat, blood pressure, and a poor immune system.
Studies have reported that chronic stress causes several behavioral issues, such as eating disorders, substance abuse, and gambling. Stress in childhood due to abuse or loss causes stress. The chances of addiction also increase in stressed children and adults .
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Help?
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment provides a rich supply of oxygen and spreads throughout the body. It reduces anxiety and stress. The high amount of oxygen stimulates the internal healing system.
There are several benefits HBOT can provide. Some benefits are:
- Increased supply of oxygen to body tissues
- Improved blood circulation. It is beneficial in blood poisoning, removes poisonous gases from the body, and eliminates significant health issues.
- HBOT helps build and repair blood cells by promoting angiogenesis. Once new blood cells are formed, oxygen-rich blood reaches starved cells and supports tissue growth. Similarly, it also improves wound healing.
- Collagen is essential to skin, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. HBOT helps in initiating collagen development.
- It reduces pain and swelling in wounds.
- HBOT promotes the production of white blood cells and helps fight bacterial infections.
- In case of blockage of arteries due t nitrogen gas bubbles, reduced pressure from HBOT releases gas into the air.
- Pressure therapy from HBOT helps destroy the cells of injury and promotes tissue healing by supplying oxygen .
Chronic stress causes depression
If chronic stress is left untreated, it causes depression, and depression is one of the most common and significant mental health issues. Recent research showed an increased incidence of depression among adults, i.e., 8.5%- 27.8% in 2020, which will increase to 32.8% in 2021 .
Every one in three adults will be affected by depression. There are several names for depression, including clinical depression and major depressive disorder .
Depression is a severe mental health issue that affects the brain and causes brain connectivity problems. It disturbs the connectivity between different brain parts, i.e., the strong connection between the hippocampus and amygdala responsible for fight-flight response and a weak link between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex responsible for accountable for response regulation. Suppose the brain’s connection to the prefrontal connection is impaired. In that case, an individual will feel it difficult to shut down the stress response initiated by a stronger amygdala connection with the hippocampus.
Depression causes death in 205 individuals due to suicide and underlying morbidity. Despite of availability of multiple treatments, 30% of depressed individuals showed no response to treatment. The investigations found the root cause of no improvement due to poor blood flow to the brain and inflammation and neuro-degeneration in depressed individuals. HBOT is an effective therapy to treat the side effects on brain caused by depression.
Chronic stress affects brain
In addition, chronic stress also affects the stem cells of the brain. The hippocampus stem cells mature and develop from glial cells known as oligodendrocytes. Oligodendrocytes secrete myelin that covers nerve cells. It causes permanent alterations in the brain and causes mental problems later in life. Another negative impact of oligodendrocyte is that it affects the growth of the axon, which is responsible for making synapse connection. Chronic stress also causes learning and memory issues by decreasing the number of neuron stem cells.
HBOT and brain
HBOT proved to have beneficial effects on cerebral tissues. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment provides dual action of increased oxygen and hyperbaric pressure by activating genes sensitive to oxygen and pressure. The provision of HBOT in case of stroke and traumatic brain injury induces neuroplasticity in individuals with metabolically dysfunctional brain, fibromyalgia, and child abuse mental disability .
Chronic stress causes traumatic brain injury
In traumatic brain injury, studies have found better brain functioning after HBOT. A randomized controlled trial conducted on patients with brain injury showed better cognitive function and life quality after 40 sessions of HBOT. Each session consisted of 100% oxygen and 1.5 ATA pressure.
HBOT and traumatic brain injury
In another study, the effects of HBOT were studied in patients with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and showed a positive impact of hyperbaric treatment on physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. The positive results of successful HBOT were confirmed through physical examination, questionnaires, and single proton emission computerized tomography.
In these cases, HBOT may be an effective strategy to improve blood flow to the brain regions. In a study of military members with PTSD and TBI, HBOT showed decreased anxiety and depression and reduced suicidal thoughts. HBOT can also target brain hypoxia.
Thirty HBOT sessions for 70 minutes at 2 ATA showed recovery from stroke. This recovery was emotional and neurologically in patients with cerebral infarction. Thus it showed that HBOT also has a positive impact on neurological stress 
Chronic stress and stress biomarkers
Chronic stress causes our body to produce certain chemicals in our body.
HBOT and stress biomarkers
One of the most important discussions is to look at the role of hyperbaric oxygen treatment on stress biomarkers in the body. In a study in October 2020, HBOT showed promising results for decreased stress biomarkers in humans with stress-related disorders. A study from Frontiers declared that stress disturbs body’s wellness and initiates energy-consuming mechanisms making it difficult to fight diseases and our body become more favorable to pathogens.
HBOT and stress biomarkers
The stress biomarkers can be diagnosed by testing saliva or urine. These biomarkers are thermal stress markers, i.e., heat shock proteins; innate immune markers, i.e., Acute Phase protein; oxidative stress markers; and salivary and urinary chemical secretions. These biomarkers disturb homeostasis inside the body in coping with stress. A study named “hyperbaric oxygen exposure attenuates circulating stress biomarkers” supported this. Researchers in this study used 100% oxygen to 10 male individuals at 2.8 ATA for 45 minutes and then for 55 minutes at 2.0 ATA. After HBOT, there was a decrease in mitochondrial and oxidative stress markers. Another enzyme level, γ–glutamyltransferase also reduced due to HBOT. Moreover, an increased adiponectin/leptin ratio showed the efficacy of HBOT .
Chronic stress causes other mental illnesses and effect of HBOT
It is also effective against autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. In ASD, mental illness is due to hypoperfusion, inflammation, and oxidative stress in the brain. In Thailand, a study of 10 sessions of HBOT on individuals showed improved social skills, motor skills, language, and behavioral issues.
Schizophrenia is a neurodegenerative disorder due to chronic stress. In it, there is increased oxidative stress and normobaric hyperoxia is a powerful way of growing plasma oxygen levels. And the tests showed improved memory and attention span .
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment provides a rich supply of oxygen and spreads throughout the body. The high amount of oxygen stimulates the internal healing system. Chronic stress causes depression, which is a mental health issue that affects the brain and causes brain connectivity problems. There are several names for depression, including clinical depression and major depressive disorder. HBOT is an effective therapy to treat the side effects on brain caused by depression.
Chronic stress causes learning and memory issues by decreasing the number of neuron stem cells in the brain. Chronic stress causes other mental illnesses and effect of HBOT. HBOT is a powerful way of growing plasma oxygen levels. It is also effective against autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. In ASD, mental illness is due to hypoperfusion, inflammation, and oxidative stress in the brain.
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- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves symptoms, brain’s microstructure and functionality in veterans with treatment resistant post-traumatic stress disorder: A prospective, randomized, controlled trial. (2022, February 22). PLOS. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0264161
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