Oxygen reduces autism symptoms

Photo by Baston (http://www.flickr.com/photos/baston/)The BBC News reported on Saturday that, after 40 hours of oxygen therapy in a hyperbaric chamber, autistic children showed increased eye contact and improved social interactions compared to a control group. Previous research has shown that this kind of treatment also reduces symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy.

The research, headed by Dr. Daniel Rossignol at the International Child Development Resource Centre in Florida, may be the first controlled study of the treatment. Fifty-five 2 to 7 with a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder were recruited from 6 treatment centres; children were randomly assigned to the treatment or the control group. The treatment involved 1-hour sessions in a hyperbaric chamber at 1.3 atmospheres and 24% oxygen; these sessions occurred twice per day for 4 weeks. Children in the control group also received 2 sessions per day in the chamber, which was set at 1.03 atmospheres and 21% oxygen. This was a double-blind study, so the parents and physicians rating the children’s behaviour were unaware of whether the child being rated was in the control or treatment group.

The researchers found that 80% of the children in the treatment group showed improvements in overall functioning, compared to 38% of the control group; it was thought that a combination of the placebo effect along with the possible benefit of even the minimal treatment resulted in the benefits seen for the children in the control group. They surmised that the treatment might reduce inflammation of the frontal lobe that some studies have shown to be present in up to 75% of autistic children. Interestingly, the oxygen therapy was also thought to reduce gastrointestinal inflammation. Although it isn’t a symptom of autism, several clinicians have reported digestive problems among autistic children. Given that this was a small study that didn’t examine the long-term effects of the treatment, further research is needed.

We heard from some parents of autistic children who have tried chelation to treat their children’s symptoms; chelation is a controversial and potentially dangerous treatment that removes heavy metals from the body. If you’re a parent of an autistic child, have you tried oxygen therapy? If so, what was the impact?

You can read the ICDRC study here (PDF), and the BBC News article here.

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