Israeli scientists have found that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can significantly relieve symptoms of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A study by researchers from Tel Aviv University and Shamir Medical Center on 35 Israel Defense Forces veterans found that new HBOT protocols reduce symptoms in those with treatment-resistant PTSD, demonstrating significant improvement in all classes of symptoms.
The peer-reviewed study was published earlier this week in the prestigious scientific journal PlosOne.
Although there have been studies of the effects of oxygen therapy on patients with PTSD who also suffered from traumatic brain injury, this is the first time that researchers have focused on the use of oxygen therapy for treat patients with only psychological trauma, Dr. Keren Doenyas-Barak, one of the researchers who led the study, tells NoCamels.
Dr. Doenyas-Barak was part of the research team that led the study. The team also included Professor Shai Efrati, Dr Ilan Kutz, Dr Merav Catalogna, Dr Efrat Sasson, Dr Amir Hadanny, Gabriela Levi and Yarden Shechter from the Sagol School of Neuroscience and the Faculties of Medicine and Science of the life of Tel Aviv University and the Shamir Medical Center.
PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, frightening or dangerous event. While it is natural to feel fear during and after a traumatic situation, fear can also trigger many split-second changes in the body and brain to help defend against or avoid danger. .
“I would sit with some of these patients and get such a strong reaction,” says Dr. Doenyas-Barak, “like when you look at a dog, you can tell if he’s calm or very stressed or scared. And for these patients, the disease is actually in their limbic system. So you can actually tell if they are looking around or if they are calm. There were certain days when it felt like they were lost. There was a need [for these veterans] look around for danger.
Coping with everyday life was a struggle, she tells NoCamels. They would be afraid of hearing loud noises or when planes were flying overhead. Some couldn’t wait in line to order food because they worried about who was behind them.
“It was very clear when they weren’t in their comfort zone for someone who was sitting with them. They couldn’t sit with their back to a door. It was very dramatic.”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used as a type of treatment to speed healing of carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, stubborn wounds, diabetic skin wounds, and infections in which tissues lack oxygen, among others . During treatment, a patient breathes high-pressure pure oxygen at varying concentrations through a mask while seated in a hyperbaric (pressurized) chamber to stimulate the healing process.
Efrati’s team at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at Shamir Medical Center has done extensive research on the use of HBOT to improve brain function in patients with stroke, fibromyalgia, and of Alzheimer’s disease. In a controversial 2020 study, Efrati even claimed that HBOT had the potential to “reverse” aging at the cellular level.
“Today, we understand that treatment-resistant PTSD is caused by biological injury to brain tissue, which hampers attempts at psychological and psychiatric treatment,” Professor Shai Efrati said in a statement. “With the new HBOT protocols, we can activate mechanisms that repair injured brain tissue. The treatment induces the reactivation and proliferation of stem cells, as well as the generation of new blood vessels and increased brain activity, ultimately restoring the functionality of injured tissues Our study paves the way for a better understanding of the connection between mind and body.
The study included 35 veterans with an average age of 32 who had undergone treatment for PTSD but were resistant to both psychiatric medication and psychotherapy. The veterans were divided into two groups, one serving as a control group and the other receiving HBOT. The group of 18 veterans who received HBOT completed a course of 60 daily sessions in the hyperbaric chamber for approximately three months.
PTSD symptoms decreased sharply, the researchers said, with specific improvement in hyper-arousal, avoidance and depression. These have been caused or linked to specific improvements in biological factors, such as changes in brain activity and heart rate, which have been identified as effects of PTSD.
“Oxygen is the basic source of energy production. We need oxygen to produce energy. Generally, the brain does not function at 100% when it lacks oxygen. We have two main vessels that bring blood to the brain and only certain parts of the brain are active when we don’t have enough energy for the rest. So these hypometabolized brain regions can’t heal if they don’t have enough energy,” says Dr. Doenyas-Barak, comparing it to someone putting a pillow against someone’s face so that he cannot breathe, signaling the need for a healing response. “We were also able to demonstrate changes in the activity of certain brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, and improved connectivity. There was a very good correlation between changes in the clinical score [of our patients] and activity in certain regions of the brain.
According to Dr. Doenyas-Barak, the soldiers complained in particular of hot flashes and sweating. When they were scared, the sweat had a sour smell that was not pleasant. After the HBOT treatment, “one of the soldiers described to me that he had a lot of undershirts in his car, which were there because he had to change his shirt several times a day because it smelled bad. He had to go to his car, change his shirt and go back to work. One day, he realized that many shirts were piling up in his car. As a result, he no longer needed to change them, even when he was nervous.
Other soldiers have reported unique changes in their quality of life, says Dr. Doenyas-Barak. One said the neighbor’s dog, which was always barking at him, suddenly stopped barking. Another said that for the first time he could use a touchscreen in a McDonald’s restaurant without paying attention to who was behind him.
Our results indicate that exposure to severe emotional trauma can cause organic brain damage,” says Professor Efrati. “We also demonstrate for the first time that direct biological processing of brain tissue can serve as a tool to help patients with PTSD. Moreover, our results may be the most meaningful for the diagnosis. To date, no effective diagnostic method has been developed and the diagnosis of PTSD is still based on personal reports which are necessarily subjective – leading to many clashes between the suffering veterans and the authorities in charge of treating them”, said Efrati said, “At present, we are conducting ongoing research in order to identify the biological fingerprint of PTSD, which may ultimately enable the development of innovative objective diagnostic tools.
“We believe that in most patients, the improvements will be preserved for years after treatment ends,” added Dr. Doenyas-Barak, “This study gives real hope to people with PTSD. For the first time since For years, study participants, most of whom suffered from severe PTSD, were able to leave the horrors behind and look forward to a better future.