Community Health, Complimentary Therapy, Healthcare, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Hypoxia

Hypoxia – The Common Denominator in Disease, Injury and Ill Health

Very often the question is posed, “what can Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) treat?”

If we answer with a list of conditions, it generally follows the UHMS (Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine Society) guidelines with some added conditions depending on who you ask, which are referred to as emerging conditions, off label conditions, open label conditions and even some experimental conditions. More on that here

The simple answer to this question is this. We treat HYPOXIA.

As we mentioned in a previous article, a quote attributed to John Scott Haldane, eminent Scottish physiologist and the father of oxygen and many advances in gas, altitude and diving theory,

“Hypoxia not only stops the machine, it wrecks the machinery.”

What is hypoxia? “Hypo-Oxia” really is just another word for low-oxygenation. There is a great presentation at the foot of this article describing hypoxia in greater detail.

The end result of all injury, illness, altitude induced sickness, vascular failure including cardiac arrest, bleeding, stroke, etc, etc, etc, is hypoxia. There is no difference in the hypoxia itself regardless of its cause. It is essentially the direct result of injury and illness, and the direct cause of cell death (apoptosis) following an injury or illness event, if it persists long enough. Lack of oxygen either locally, or in more serious cases, systematically. i.e. systems such as the neurological system or the cardiac system, can be very seriously affected by hypoxia in a short amount of time with mortality being a real concern.

When an injury occurs, tissue is damaged and blood flow is compromised. Blood is the primary oxygen transporter. Hypoxia follows. In illness, blood supply is also compromised in some way. Either by inflammation which is common to both injury and illness, vascular failure, blood brain compromise, you name it, whatever the pathology of an injury or illness may be, hypoxia is the result.

When illness or injury occurs, the body’s natural response is to try and repair itself, isolate pathogens and foreign debris matter, deconstruct it, and then replace those cells. It does this by dispatching phagocytes and neutrophils as well as other white blood cell components to the site of injury or illness. This results in inflammation and accordingly a further state of hypoxia. The natural process becomes problematic and frustrated when the repair of damage and blood supply takes longer than the cells can tolerate at any specific injury or illness site. This is particularity evident where the inflammation and hypoxic response persists beyond its natural cycle. Ultimately cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) occurs.

Image by vargazs from Pixabay 

Some cells and tissue are more tolerant of hypoxia than others, i.e. brain tissue is highly oxygen sensitive and suffers loss much quicker than muscles for example. However, all cells will eventually become ischaemic and then ultimately apoptosis will occur (the will die), if the hypoxic state persists.


In some cases it can be the re-perfusion of oxygen starved tissue that causes the injury. The returning of oxygenated blood to hypoxic tissue. Also as a result of the initial hypoxia. This too can be relieved with HBOT.

Consider paracetamol. It doesn’t treat the cause of a headache, but rather the receptors that sense pain in the brain, the pain still exists, just that it isn’t perceived by the brain. It’s known as symptomatic relief or symptomatic treatment. It treats only the symptom. HBOT treats hypoxia and not just the symptoms of a disease or injury. It hastens their repair and resolution. Unlike analgesics which simply mask the pain long enough for resolution to occur naturally, and leave the underlying fundamental condition to resolve on its own, HBOT gets to the actual mechanism of apoptosis and halts any further deterioration and boosts the repair process saving cells, tissues, organs and systems. Administering HBOT is no different in principal than taking a simple analgesic in that we allow the body to repair itself while giving it time to do so without leaving cells to die from hypoxia during this process.

HBOT further has the added benefit of facilitating accelerated healing and an optimal healing environment by treating the fundamental hypoxia and up-regulating metabolism, which saves cells and tissues reducing the long term affect and consequence of illness and injury.

It could even be said that hyperbaric oxygenation isn’t a treatment at all, for any of the conditions on the many lists of conditions it can benefit. It can be said that all we do is relieve the hypoxia brought about by any of those conditions.

We breathe oxygen every second of our lives. Without it, we wouldn’t enjoy life at all. The only proof needed is to simply stop breathing for a short while. The need for oxygen becomes immediately irrefutable. When we administer HBOT we aren’t really doing anything medically in technical terms, we are merely increasing the oxygen which cells, tissues, organs and systems recieve by expanding the natural consequence of breathing. We do this by simply altering the environment in which oxygen is breathed and by increasing the concentration of the oxygen being breathed. It is non-invasive, benign, and one of the most natural physiological functions on earth. Indeed the most crucial to life. It could be described as enhanced breathing. And as we know, regular breathing is what provides the oxygen which allows our bodies to heal in the first instance.

It follows then, when asked, “will it help..(insert condition here..)?”, the answer will always be, “is inflammation involved?” and “Is there hypoxia present as a result of said pathology or condition?” If the answer to these is yes, then yes it will help. It may not be an outright cure for the specific pathology or condition, but it is an outright cure for the hypoxia brought on by the condition which is what causes the damage. It will deal with the hypoxic state while the body heals itself. And if the condition is chronic and the body cannot completely heal itself, HBOT serves well as an effective management therapy since it will constantly stabilise the hypoxic state and facilitate optimal cellular metabolic function. As we have mentioned before, HBOT merely extends the natural healing envelope by relieving hypoxia and also by up-regulating the natural repair and rebuild process and metabolic function which has evolved and existed in the body throughout our evolution. The body is it’s own pharmacy and hospital. The extra oxygen helps it recover quicker while preventing the excessive loss of tissue following disease, infection, injury and illness. In almost all cases, healing happens automatically when the environment in the body supports it and provided the initial insult isn’t terminal. Often with no need for the “look how clever I am” treatments so often preferred nowadays.

The same could be said for a virus. In most cases, medication doesn’t cure viruses, the immune system does as mentioned above, when phagocytes and neutrophils are dispatched to deconstruct pathogens and debris. Medication merely treats the symptoms, allowing the body time to heal itself. This why you won’t be given antibiotics for viral infection anymore.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

Viruses attack healthy cells and damage the cell wall membrane when penetrating the cell and complicating intra cellular function. The video below describes intra cellular function well. This stops cell respiration and accordingly it becomes hypoxic and apoptosis (cell death) is triggered.

HBOT can reverse the hypoxic state brought about by viruses within cells and help repair the damage and salvage as many cells as possible. It also helps that most viruses, and bacteria, are anaerobic and prefer to reproduce in a low oxygen environment. Coupled with the up-regulation of the immune system, and antibiotic and antiviral nature of oxygen, the body benefits and gets the support it needs to heal itself. Much the same way cancer cells divide and grow. Again, relieving the hypoxia is the the mechanism of HBOT. Again, not an outright cure for viral infection, but a support therapy to give the body the tools it needs to fix itself faster and more effectively than it otherwise would.

We are essentially treating each cell in a problematic tissue, organ or system by treating the hypoxia it may be suffering.

Oxygen is the fundamental life giving element. A biological organism can survive for a reasonable time without food and water but simply cannot survive for long without oxygen, (with the exception of a few extremophile organisms). Hypoxia is the ultimate cause of cell death (apoptosis), and cell death on a large scale is the cause of organism death. This is the end result of all disease and injury that remains unresolved and persistent. Cell death, and ultimately complete organism death in chronic cases where hypoxia affects life supporting systems such as the brain, cardiac and other vital organ systems. Any disease, injury or cellular hypoxia from any cause can benefit from less hypoxia and this is achieved by giving more oxygen. Hyperoxia (High oxygen), can only benefit organisms which rely on oxidative metabolism for sustained life and well being.

This is what we do when administering HBOT. We simply treat the universal common denominator in ill health that is:


©Hayden Dunstan

A fantastic video presentation on the pathology of hypoxia

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