Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis, Hope or Hoax?
A recent article in appearing in a UK news source reported on the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for multiple sclerosis, a treatment that has its share of skeptics as well as advocates. The article highlights the question as to whether this form of natural therapy offers hope to MSers or is it a hoax.
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment approach that involves breathing pure oxygen while being present in a pressurized room or chamber. Although it is a well-known way to treat scuba divers who experience decompression sickness, it also has been used to wounds that are slow to heal, infections, severe anemia, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, and radiation injury.
The idea behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy is that damaged tissues need more oxygen than healthy tissue to be restored and survive. Intake of a high level of oxygen (up to three times greater than normal air pressure) helps trigger stem cells and growth factors, which in turn support natural healing.
Evidence that oxygen therapy can benefit MS or some other conditions such as arthritis, autism, cancer, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal ulcers, or stroke is not as convincing. That does not mean, however, that researchers are not exploring these possibilities and that some patients are not trying and getting some good results from this treatment.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the UK
A case in point is the presence of more than 60 MS treatment facilities in England and Ireland that offer a variety of therapeutic options, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy. According to Brendan Hilton, a 32-year-old who was diagnosed with MS about seven years ago, oxygen therapy has improved his symptoms, including sleep problems and fatigue.
Hilton is not unrealistic about what oxygen therapy can do. He stated in an Express article that “It’s not a cure but I’ve no doubt that it helps.” He notices the difference in how he feels if he misses one of his weekly sessions and believes that “when you have an incurable condition anything that works for you has to be worth it.”
According to Petra Kliempt, coordinator for MS Therapy Centres, this therapy “helps against infection and the inflammation caused by MS.” The oxygen is delivered at twice the normal atmospheric pressure in the UK centers.
Although many researchers are still skeptical about the benefit of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for MS (see below), Kliempt explained that there are “clear benefits and no side effects. I have not encountered any MS patients who report no improvement and for some it is dramatic.”
What the research says
The scientific evidence to support the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, however, is not as positive. A 2010 review of the results of 12 randomized studies on the use of this natural therapy for MS found “no clinically significant benefit” from hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
The majority of the studies compared use of the treatment against placebo and involved 20 treatments administered at pressures between 1.75 ATA and 2.5 ATA (atmospheres absolute) daily for one to two hours over four weeks. In an earlier (2004) review, the authors reported on nine trials and found that two of them produced positive results while the remaining seven did not.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared hyperbaric oxygen chambers (which are considered medical devices) for treatment of 13 conditions, and MS is not one of them. In fact, Nayan Patel, a biomedical engineer in the FDA’s Anesthesiology Devices Branch explains on the FDA website that “Patients may incorrectly believe that these devices have been proven safe and effective for uses not cleared by FDA, which may cause them to delay or forego proven medical therapies.”
Do you have any experience with this treatment approach? Can hyperbaric oxygen therapy offer any hope for MSers or is it a hoax?
Bennett M, Heard R. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for multiple sclerosis. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics 2010 Apr; 16(2): 115-24
Bennett M, Heard R. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for multiple sclerosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004; (1):CD003057
Food and Drug Administration