March 11, 2022
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy For Depression: What Does The Evidence Say?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a treatment in which an individual breathes almost 100% medical-grade oxygen while inside a pressurized hyperbaric chamber. Originally used to treat decompression sickness, in recent years HBOT has been used to treat an array of medical conditions.
HBOT floods the body’s tissue with oxygen while reducing the swelling of damaged blood vessels. During HBOT, your lungs gather significantly more oxygen than would be possible under normal circumstances. Numerous studies on depression have looked at MRI scans of depressive patients and noticed changes in blood flow to the brain, in particular the prefrontal cortex. It has therefore been hypothesized that HBOT could potentially treat depression.
While much of the research into HBOT’s effect on depression is still preliminary, it’s so far been promising. Several studies show that regular Hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment over the course of several weeks can reduce symptoms of depression – sometimes as much as more conventional methods like psychotherapy.
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Work?
During HBOT, patients enter a special chamber to breathe pure oxygen for a set period, usually 15 to 20 minutes. Inside the chamber, oxygen air pressure is 1.5 to 3 times higher than average, filling the blood with enough oxygen to bring oxygen-rich plasma to damaged tissues.
Early forms of HBOT were used to treat respiratory symptoms, and the Navy began using more advanced techniques in the 1940s to treat decompression sickness in deep-sea divers. Over the years, medical professionals have identified a variety of additional benefits to HBOT such as improved circulation, accelerated wound healing, and improvements to neurological health.
Due to HBOT’s impact on the brain, scientists have been testing its impact on mood disorders – including depression. While there are so far only a limited number of studies on the link between HBOT and depression, findings so far have been promising.
Can Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Treat Depression?
There have been a few encouraging studies in recent history that indicate Hyperbaric oxygen therapy could be a viable treatment for depression. Perhaps most notable is a 2017 study that looked at 60 patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) as well as depression and anxiety. Researchers randomly divided patients into three groups: 20 received conventional rehabilitation, 20 received psychotherapy, and 20 received HBOT. After eight weeks, levels of anxiety and depression were lower in both the HBOT group and the psychotherapy group, but not the conventional rehabilitation group. Levels of anxiety and depression in the HBOT group and the psychotherapy group were similar after eight weeks, showing HBOT may be as effective as psychotherapy for treating depression and anxiety.
Another study, conducted in 2015, looked at the effects of HBOT on post-stroke depression. Researchers placed ninety patients with post-stroke depression into three groups: one fluoxetine treatment group, one HBOT treatment group, and one combined HBOT and fluoxetine group. While all three groups made progress, the combined group showed the most substantial improvement – indicating HBOT may be a viable supplemental treatment for depression.
There was also a single-group study of military members diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD. After undergoing HBOT, the subjects experienced a significant reduction in depression and anxiety. Subjects also reported an overall better mood and quality of life and reported they experienced less suicidal ideation after undergoing HBOT.
While these studies show promise, it is important to note the majority of research on HBOT and depression involves patients with pre-existing health conditions that may impact brain functions. Therefore, it is unclear whether patients without these comorbidities would experience the same impact. However, the science does indicate that HBOT may result in changes to the brain that could reduce symptoms of not only depression but related mental health conditions like anxiety and PTSD.
Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Right For Me?
If you are experiencing significant symptoms of depression, talk to a mental health professional before undergoing HBOT – especially if you are having thoughts of self-harm and suicide. However, if you’ve been managing depression through conventional means for a while, HBOT may be a good supplemental treatment if done under the guidance of an experienced professional.
Not everyone is a good candidate for HBOT. Those with chronic lung conditions or who have recently had surgery for ear trauma are at heightened risk of complications. If you are recovering from a cold or the flu, your doctor may recommend holding off on HBOT until symptoms have fully cleared up.
The best way to ensure the procedure is safe for you is to book a consultation with a medical professional with experience administering HBOT. They will look at your medical history in detail to ensure HBOT is safe for you.
The Bottom Line
While more research is needed, there is a strong possibility that HBOT could be a feasible treatment for depression. If you are interested in HBOT, book a consultation with a qualified professional to see if treatment would benefit you.
Ready to get started? At CORR, our team of medical professionals has extensive experience in a variety of innovative therapeutic techniques, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Reach out here if you are interested in learning more.