Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that currently affects as many as 1 out of 166 children in the United States. New research in today’s BMC Pediatrics may give the therapy more credibility as a treatment for autism. The randomized, double-blind controlled study of 62 children found that those who received 40 hours of treatment over a month were less irritable, more responsive when people spoke to them, made more eye contact and were more sociable than kids who didn’t receive it. They were also less sensitive to noise (some autistic children experience a kind of sensory overload from loud sounds and background noise). The most improvement was observed in kids older than five (the study included children ages two to seven) who had milder autism.

Some researches have discovered that some autistic individuals have decreased cerebral perfusion, evidence of neuroinflammation, and increased markers of oxidative stress. Multiple independent single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) research studies have revealed hypoperfusion to several areas of the autistic brain, most notably the temporal regions and areas specifically related to language comprehension and auditory processing. Several studies show that diminished blood flow to these areas correlates with many of the clinical features associated with autism including repetitive, self-stimulatory and stereotypical behaviors, and impairments in communication, sensory perception, and social interaction. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been used with clinical success in several cerebral hypoperfusion syndromes including cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, closed head injury, and stroke. HBOT can compensate for decreased blood flow by increasing the oxygen content of plasma and body tissues and can even normalize oxygen levels in ischemic tissue. In addition, animal studies have shown that HBOT has potent anti-inflammatory effects and reduces oxidative stress. Furthermore,

recent evidence demonstrates that HBOT mobilizes stem cells from human bone marrow, which may aid recovery in neurodegenerative diseases.

It has been postulated that children with autism might benefit from HBOT owing to the potential increase in cerebral perfusion occurring during treatment. Inhalation of above-atmospheric oxygen might result in an elevation of arterial partial pressure of oxygen, leading to increased oxygen delivery to the brain.Hyperbaric oxygen therapy might also have anti-inflammatory properties due to the reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines (tumour necrosis factor–α, interferon-γ, and interleukins 1 and 6).Furthermore, HBOT might improve mitochondrial dysfunction, as well as upregulate the production of antioxidant enzymes.

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