Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that currently affects as many as 1 out of 166 children in the United States. Recent research has 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. Based upon these findings, it is hypothesized that HBOT will improve symptoms in autistic individuals.