Autoimmune disorders are a group of diseases that occur because of a malfunction in the immune system of the body. These include well-known diseases like Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Lupus, and others. These diseases generally have no cure and are often only treatable through transplants, surgeries, medicines, or anti-immune therapies. Some autoimmune diseases are genetic or occur later in life. Whatever the case may be, autoimmune disorders are complicated and have multi-organ system involvement.
What is an Autoimmune Disorder?
These diseases are all characterized by a dysregulated immune system in which the immune system attacks its own tissues. This can be a one-time event, a series of events, or an ongoing process. There are over 80 different autoimmune disorders with a myriad of symptoms. The immune system is extremely complicated, second in complexity only to the nervous system, and essential to the body. This system is made up of many organs, tissues, proteins, and cells that all work together throughout the body. The immune system attacks and destroys germs, bacteria, and infections. Immune response in the body is key to your body working properly. A strong immune system can help you avoid getting sick, keep your body functioning properly, and limit infection from causing other issues. If there is an autoimmune disorder in the body, it means that the immune system is either not working properly through not keeping the body safe, or it has “confused” healthy parts of the body for unhealthy, dangerous cells.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment of Autoimmune Disorders
Sometimes autoimmune diseases only target one part of the body. For example, Type 1 Diabetes occurs when the immune system destroys the pancreas. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment of autoimmune disorders varies due to the immense number of symptoms that patients can have, the different organs and tissues involved, and the different components of the immune system that can be involved. It also varies depending on the severity of a person’s disease. Despite this heterogeneity, hyperbaric oxygen treatment of autoimmune diseases is very similar to HBOT for other diseases and patients. Once again, the key is finding a dose of HBOT that fits the patient and their disease, not applying a rote protocol to a highly varied disease. Dr. Harch generally recommends an initial series of 40 HBOT treatments for autoimmune disease that has been active for at least six months. Once the chronic wounding has been addressed there is evidence that regular low-dose HBOT sessions can suppress the immune system on a long-term basis. Coupled with counseling and dietary therapy HBOT can change the trajectory of autoimmune disease and improve a patient’s quality of life.
Benefit of HBOT for People with Autoimmune Disorders
Although autoimmune disorders cause many symptoms, some common ones include fatigue, aching muscles, fevers, rashes, swelling and redness of joints, inflammation of blood vessels, and internal organ damage. The evidence for HBOT treatment of autoimmune disorders is fairly strong in animal models where the beneficial effects of HBOT on various components of the immune system have been demonstrated. In humans there is less experience with much of the early application accumulated by Russian physicians. Lately, there have been more case reports and studies in humans. Beneficial effects of HBOT are due to HBOT’s broad-based suppressive effects on a dysregulated immune system, very likely through HBOT’s effects on anti-inflammatory gene expression and immune cells.
HBOT and Specific Autoimmune Diseases
There is accumulating evidence for HBOT’s impact on a variety of autoimmune diseases. One of the first diseases targeted for HBOT treatment was multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis (MS) or multiple “scars” is a wounding condition where wounds accumulate in the small veins to the white matter (connecting tracts) in the brain and spinal cord. Many doctors believe this is an autoimmune disorder. The most rigorous trial ever performed on HBOT in MS demonstrated symptom improvement in MS patients. One of the most dramatic testimonials is Dr. Harch’s wife Juliette who was diagnosed with Chronic Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) many years ago. Over the past 21 years with a few hyperbaric treatments/month her disease has shown no progression, similar to a report out of England on over 700 patients treated for 14 years. Juliette works full-time, participates in sports, and leads an active life with minimal symptoms.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is another category of autoimmune disease in which hyperbaric oxygen therapy is showing great promise. IBD consists of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s Disease, two diseases which cause inflammation of the intestines leading to abdominal pain, cramping, gas, bloody diarrhea, draining wounds around the anus, and even cancer. In multiple studies totaling nearly 300 patients with Crohn’s Disease and over 300 patients with Ulcerative Colitis HBOT has shown an overall response rate of 86% in healing Crohn’s Disease anal wounds and in improving symptoms and clinical outcomes in ulcerative colitis patients.
For patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Anklyosing Spondylitis there are encouraging reports. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that can affect many organ systems, but primarily affects the small joints of the hands. Russian doctors reported improvement in symptoms and inflammation in multiple studies in the 1980s. A recent study in California showed significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life in patients with RA. Similarly, in anklyosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease that affects the spine, 94% of 142 patients treated by Russian physicians in the 1980s achieved improvement of symptoms and a variety of other measures after a course of HBOT.
While animal experiments have shown improvement in the underlying inflammation responsible for autoimmune disorders, more and more clinical experience is reaffirming the animal studies. With proper dosing of hyperbaric oxygen therapy patients Dr. Harch has been able to achieve clinical improvement in patients with a variety of autoimmune disorders.
- Michelle T Sit1, Thomas W Schmidt2, Lance D Edmonds 1, Jason A Kelly 3, Karen M Sky 4, Jennifer A Thornton 3, Antoinette M McNeary-Garvin 3, Stephen R Thom 5, John B Slade. 3 The Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen on Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Pilot Study. J Clin Rheumatol. 2021 Dec 1;27(8):e462-e468. PMID: 32947434 doi: 10.1097/RHU.0000000000001540.
Background/objective: This case series pilot study assessed the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO2) for treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: Ten RA subjects received 30 HBO2 treatments over 6 to 10 weeks. Serial rheumatologic evaluations (ie, the Disease Activity Scale [DAS28], the Routine Assessment of Patient Index Data 3, and the Pain and Sleep Quality Questionnaire) were completed at baseline, throughout the course of the study, and at the 6-month follow-up.
Results: There was a statistically significant effect of HBO2 therapy over time on the DAS28-Global Health (p = 0.01), the DAS28-C-reactive protein (p = 0.002), and the DAS28-erythrocyte sedimentation rate (p = 0.008) measures; these analyses excluded 2 patients who were in clinical remission at baseline. Selected post hoc comparisons showed significantly lower DAS28-Global Health, DAS28-C-reactive protein, and DAS28-erythrocyte sedimentation rate scores at 3 and 6 months relative to baseline. In addition, statistically significant decreases in pain as measured by the Routine Assessment of Patient Index Data 3 and Pain and Sleep Quality Questionnaire were observed at the end of HBO2 relative to baseline.
Conclusions: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is effective for joint pain in patients with RA based on data from multiple, validated clinical measures. Further research with more subjects and the use of a control group is necessary.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT0298493)
[Article in Russian]. PMID: 1774920. Abstract:
Hyperbaric oxygenation (HBO) for ankylosing spondylarthritis was employed in Kuibyshev Medical Institute for 10 years. The response was registered in 94.4% ot 142 patients treated as shown by positive changes in external respiration, performance status, electromyographic, laboratory, biochemical and immunological findings.
- Dulai PS, Gleeson MW, Taylor D, Holubar SD, Buckey JC, Siegel CA. Systematic review: The safety and efficacy ofhyperbaricoxygen therapy for inflammatory bowel disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Jun;39(11):1266-75. doi: 10.1111/apt.12753. Epub 2014 Apr 16.PMID: 24738651