(NaturalNews) Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, already used for the treatment of the bends, carbon monoxide poisoning and a variety of other conditions, may lead to improvement in autistic patients, according to a study conducted by physician Daniel Rossignol and published in the British Medical Journal.
"These findings confirm what we are seeing in clinical practice -- that many children with autism may benefit with the use of this treatment," Rossignol said.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves having a patient inhale oxygen pressurized to a level greater than atmospheric pressure. While anecdotal evidence has already led many physicians to begin experimenting with the therapy as a treatment for autism, the current study is the first large scale, double-blind controlled clinical trial into its effectiveness.
Rossignol randomly assigned 62 autistic children between the ages of two and seven to inhale either air that consisted of 24 percent oxygen at 1.3 atm or only slightly pressurized air (1.03 atm) consisting of 21 percent oxygen for 40 sessions of one hour each. The treatment took place at six different centers across the United States.
After 40 hours of treatment, children in the hyperbaric (1.3 atm) treatment group showed significantly improvement in measures of eye contact, sensory and cognitive awareness, social interaction, receptive language and overall functioning, compared to children in the control (1.03 atm) group.
"We're not saying it's a cure," Rossignol said, "but ... if you can improve understanding so a kid doesn't run in front of a car, or improve sleep, that would be a benefit."
Researchers do not know what mechanisms hyperbaric therapy might act through to improve the symptoms of autism, but Rossignol hypothesized that it might help reduce the inflammation that constricts blood flow to the speech centers of autistic children's brains. It might also improve the brain's overall ability to absorb oxygen, with similar effects.
"With autism on the rise, it is promising to see a study that has been conducted with the high standards endorsed by the medical community," said Shannon Kenitz of the International Hyperbarics Association. "Having this scientifically controlled and analyzed study that shows the positive effects of hyperbarics is truly what this community has needed."
Sources for this story include: sev.prnewswire.com; www.sciam.com.