To understand HBOT (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy), we need to first understand the importance of oxygen. On average, an Individual consumes about six pounds of oxygen per day, far outweighing any other nutrient demands. Although oxygen performs many roles in the body, its primary role is in the production of energy. Many people consider food as energy, at least fats and carbohydrates. Although they are correct, they are only half correct. Fats and carbohydrates are a form of stored energy, unusable in their current form. Cells must convert this energy into molecules of ATP, and in order to accomplish this sustainably, oxygen must be present.
Oxygen is extremely important in cellular energy; without energy, cells can do little more than allow water and gases in and out via osmosis and diffusion. Of course, cells have many functions; however, all of these functions serve one basic role, and that is protein synthesis. That’s right; cells are nothing more than protein manufacturing machines. Cells form tissues, tissues form organs, and specialization and function become greater at every level. However, without cells to manufacture the myriad of proteins; including connective tissues such as collagen and elastin, enzymes both digestive and metabolic, and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, tissues become non-functional and dys-functional. In conclusion, cells are little more than specialized protein manufacturing machines. In order to accomplish this essential task, they require energy. Oxygen is the first limiting factor of this process. Just stop breathing if you don’t believe me!
Now that we have a better understanding of the importance of oxygen; lets discuss why hyperbarics is the most effective means for increasing oxygen levels and increasing its availability to the cells.
Under normobaric (normal pressure) conditions, oxygen is transported to the various tissues of the body via the circulatory system. Unfortunately, this system can become compromised due to conditions such as atherosclerosis, edema, inflammation, and acute trauma and surgery that may result in damaged blood vessels. Further, many tissues are low-vascular, meaning they don’t have a great blood supply. Tissues such as ligaments and tendons are extremely dense; therefore, they do not have the same availability to oxygen as other more vascular structures. On the contrary, they rely on oxygen for energy production the same as any other tissue and cells in the body. Have you ever wondered why a muscle tear (strain) heals quicker than a ligament tear (sprain)? The answer… Oxygen! Muscles have an abundant supply of oxygen providing them the necessary energy needed for increased protein synthesis during tissue repair and regeneration. Ligaments and tendons on the other hand, do not.
So, the question remains how do we get more oxygen to the tissues? Once again, the answer is simple… Pressure! Unfortunately, by just using an oxygen mask under normobaric conditions, we can only achieve minimal increases in oxygen saturation and oxygen availability. Generally, the increase in oxygen through wearing a mask is only enough of an increase to saturate the remaining 3-5% of unbound hemoglobin. This is a small gain and does nothing to compete with the hurdles of edema, inflammation, tissue density, atherosclerosis, surgery and traumatic injury. On the other hand, by employing a hyperbaric (increased pressure) environment we are able to greatly increase the partial pressure of oxygen; henceforth, dissolving oxygen into the plasma and other waterborne fluids of the body. This is extremely significant because water and gases dissolved within it, are able to cross the cells semi-permeable membrane via osmosis and diffusion. Since the body is approximately seventy percent water and every cell literally bathes in water; by placing the body in a hyperbaric environment we have the potential to deliver oxygen to every tissue in the body; upon arrival, we let the body do the rest!