Imagine you are involved in a car accident and your child sustains a traumatic brain injury. Are you confident that emergency room doctors will do everything they can to save her life and preserve her precious brain? You probably think yes but you should think no. A groundbreaking, controversial treatment exists that could help save her, but odds are your doctor will never mention it, probably knows little about it, and most likely could not provide it.

The treatment is called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). I imagine you are now rolling your eyes and singing a little “Beat It” because whenever hyperbaric medicine is mentioned the first thing that comes up is Michael Jackson. The high profile story about him supposedly sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber has unfortunately linked hyperbarics with kooks, and the result is an unwillingness to examine the treatment with an open mind by both doctors and the public.

Authors Paul G.Harch, M.D. and Virginia McCullough remove the tabloid aspect and provide a serious, scientific look at HBOT in The Oxygen Revolution. The book could have been a dry medical text filled with scientific jargon, but actually is a fascinating and understandable way for the lay public to educate themselves and their healthcare providers about HBOT. It examines in simple terms how HBOT works and what conditions might be treated with it.

Dr. Harch explains that HBOT simply delivers oxygen to bodily tissues that have been deprived of it. This might occur in a number of ways. For instance, someone who has received a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a car accident has damaged blood vessels in their brain. The blood carries the oxygen needed for brain cells to survive. If the blood flow slows or stops, the result is a damaged brain.

Dr. Harch envisions ER settings where this injured person would receive all the lifesaving techniques already available, but would also be put inside of a pressurized hyperbaric chamber breathing concentrated oxygen. The oxygen is forced into the damaged areas and the body’s inflammatory response to the injury is greatly lessened. The result is that the brain receives far less damage, and this could mean the difference between productive consciousness and coma.

Dr. Harch has already treated many people using HBOT. The book includes many color SPECT scans, showing how his patient’s brains looked before, during, and after HBOT treatment. Detractors say HBOT is understudied and that these “anecdotal” success stories cannot be relied upon for determining the efficacy of HBOT. The scans provide a convincing arguement that the treatment is effective. The book also contains information on studies that have been done and references many other sources of information on hyperbarics.

One of the most exciting propositions in the book is that HBOT is also effective months or even years after an “insult” or injury to the brain. Oxygen is forced into cells that were damaged but not destroyed. With HBOT treatment these “idling” cells can be reawakened. They begin touching other cells and with continued treatment new blood vessels form to bring blood and oxygen to the reawakened cells. Previously dormant areas of the brain begin functioning again.

Some stunning results have been seen. This video of a teen successfully treated with HBOT illustrates the dramatic changes possible using HBOT on a TBI.

Dr. Harch explains that because HBOT works not by curing a disease, but instead by lessening the body’s inflammatory response and restarting idling cells, it is not only effective on TBI’s, but also on problems such as stroke, birth injury, cerebral palsy, MS, and autism. However, HBOT is not recognized by the FDA for the treatment of neurological conditions and most doctors will never refer a person for the treatment unless they ask for it – strenuously. Hyperbaric treatment of these conditions is “off label” and the cost of treatment usually has to be paid entirely by the patient. Some hospitals have chambers, but will not put a patient in them for a neurological problem.

Despite the controversy over HBOT’s effectiveness on neurological conditions, the FDA has approved treatment of 13 different conditions and these are completely accepted procedures, reimbursable by insurance companies and Medicare. When reading this one wonders why doctors think that HBOT will grow blood vessels in a diabetic foot wound, but not inside of a damaged brain.

Dr. Harch also explores why there is still widespread opposition to HBOT. The reasons include tabloid stories, a patriarchal medical system still believing old information, and uneducated doctors. The sad result is that people are not told about HBOT’s startling possibilities and never get the chance to decide for themselves if it might be helpful.

Is HBOT too good to be true? Maybe, but a critical mass is building as more and more people receive HBOT treatment everyday. The Oxygen Revolution makes a strong case that we should start thinking of HBOT as a promising new treatment, worthy of further study, versus dismissing it as tabloid hype.

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