On my recent podcast, “A New Treatment For Blasting Tissues With Oxygen, Growing New Blood Vessels, Recovering Faster, Killing Bacteria, Building Stem Cells & Much More!,” I talked about how I've been crawling into my softshell hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) chamber every day for 40-60 minutes for reading or napping (I use the Vitaeris 320 model), and how it's become a complete game-changer in my personal recovery and health protocol.
My guest on that episode was Dr. Jason Sonners DC, DIBAK, DCBC, owner and clinic director of Core Therapies Family Wellness Center, New Jersey Hyperbaric Oxygen Center, and HBOT USA Corp.
Aside from owning and operating hyperbaric, chiropractic, and functional medicine clinics, Dr. Sonners and his wife also partner with others to help build hyperbaric clinics around the world. Having the opportunity to witness so many lives changed by hyperbaric therapy has driven Jason to continue working hard to spread the word.
He and his wife have been involved with hyperbaric medicine for well over 12 years and have dedicated their professional careers to increasing awareness of and access to this powerful therapy. His background prior to becoming a hyperbaric and functional medicine practitioner was in exercise physiology giving him a deep-rooted passion for body mechanics, health, healing, and testing the limitations of human performance.
In today's guest article by (you guessed it) Dr. Sonners, you'll discover the oft-neglected ingredient of oxygen for optimal performance and recovery, what exactly HBOT is, other ways (aside from HBOT) to improve oxygen uptake, ten well-established benefits of HBOT, and much more.
The Third Fuel Nobody Is Talking About
Whether we are talking about simple strategies for “healthy living,” or actually looking to push our physical boundaries, there are 2 critical questions we need to answer:
- What does the body require in order to perform at this moment?
- What does the body require to recover from that performance in order to push the limits again next time?
The list of potential ingredients in both of these can be extensive and are often particular to the individual and the activity they are doing. For example, when it comes to nutrition, there are a few ingredients here worth mentioning in the realm of proper fuel. Ben has quite a few resources on fueling races, muscle-building workouts, etc…
- How Should You Eat Before, During and After Long Workouts?
- Ben Greenfield’s Entire Muscle Building Program Unveiled: Top 6 Muscle Building Workouts, Diet For Building Muscle Without Gaining Fat & The Best Supplements For Muscle Mass.
- Top 10 Tricks To Keep Your Body Fueled During Long Workouts
- What Is The Perfect Human Diet? Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced Meal Plans From Ben Greenfield That Tell You Exactly How To Eat For Your Unique Body.
Then there's proper hydration, another key ingredient for optimal performance and recovery. Check out some of Ben's resources on what type of water you should be drinking, how much water you need, electrolyte and mineral intake and more…
- Quench: The Big “8 Glasses Of Day” Water Myth, Why Water Isn’t The Best Way To Fully Hydrate & Much More!
- How You’re Being Manipulated By The Sports Drink Industry And What You Can Do About It.
- Water & Water Filtration: Everything You Need To Know About Water Filters, Alkaline Water, Structured Water, Hydrogen-Rich Water, Deuterium-Depleted Water & Much More!
- The Death of Gatorade – Should You Stop Using Electrolytes During Exercise?
- Why Water, Sunlight, Grounding & Relationships Are The Keys To Your Health & How To Feed, Clean & Protect Your Body Forever.
But in addition to proper fuel and hydration, there is, in my opinion, one universally required and oft-neglected ingredient for performance and recovery (it's the most important, yet most misunderstood), and that third ingredient is oxygen.
Note from Ben: I'd also throw sunlight and natural negative ions from grounding/earthing into the fuel equation along with nutrition, hydration, and oxygen; but that's a discussion for another day.
Oxygen: The Essential But Oft-Forgotten Nutrient
Perhaps because oxygen is a gas and we are surrounded by it, and breathing is almost second nature to us, we often forget to think about oxygen as a crucial nutrient. But oxygen is a fundamental and absolutely required nutrient our body uses for the production of cellular energy (ATP).
In fact, the only reason we need to breathe air into our lungs is so that we can deliver the appropriate amount of oxygen to our cells (mitochondria), which will use that oxygen to make energy. Then we exhale to eliminate cellular waste products from the production of that energy.
Our red blood cells are responsible for transporting and delivering the oxygen we breathe in. We are able to measure how much oxygen we have in our red blood cells at any given time using a tool called a pulse oximeter. This tool uses light in order to capture how much oxygen saturation our red blood cells have, thereby seeing how close to 100% saturated we are at any moment. For the most part, without any serious lung, heart, or other cardiovascular condition, we are all about 96-98% saturated with oxygen all the time. This means that we are almost always carrying all of the oxygen we are capable of carrying. It is virtually impossible to carry any significantly higher level of oxygen.
Athletes have long understood the role oxygen plays in their performance. This is why athletes train at altitude or take drastic steps like blood doping or using EPO or even freediving (you can listen to Ben's fascinating podcast about Olympic athletes increasing blood volume via free diving here) Having more oxygen available to working tissues will improve the tissues’ capacity for work. While we are not talking about dramatic increases in oxygen, it is definitely enough to see some performance changes and at the elite athlete level, many will do whatever it takes even to shave a few seconds off their time or gain one extra rep.
So why else would you want to increase your oxygen levels?
There are times that red blood cells might be fully saturated with oxygen, but due to trauma to the circulation system, the human body cannot deliver the oxygen to where it needs to go. This trauma can be macro trauma from an accident or injury and/or microcirculation damage from a long list of things including chronic inflammation, toxicity, overuse injuries and exercise.
Studies have shown that if you could increase the oxygen level within the body beyond “normal” oxygen levels you can increase…
- Free-floating oxygen delivery to working muscle tissue
- The speed, efficiency and amount of ATP our cells can make
- Total amount of mitochondria
- Capacity for complex brain/motor function
- The speed of recovery of muscle tissue from exercise or other damage
How You Can Raise Your Oxygen Levels Beyond 100%
There are many tools out there helping improve oxygen uptake in different ways. EWOT and ozone are two of the more commonly known.
EWOT, which stands for Exercise With Oxygen Therapy, increases the percentage of oxygen you breathe while exercising.
Exercise creates an increased demand for oxygen to get into tissue in order to perform work, and rather than breathing air at 21% oxygen, you can breathe through a mask delivering closer to 95% oxygen, thereby increasing the supply of oxygen with each breath. Learn more about EWOT on Ben's podcasts “A Surgeon’s Little-Known Secret to Biohacking Your Body With Oxygen Therapy” and “The Ultimate Guide To Biohacking Exercise With Oxygen Therapy, Hypoxia, Elevation & Altitude Training.”
Ozone therapy, which uses an extra oxygen molecule, O3 instead of O2, has many benefits on our physiology, including but not limited to, balancing our immune system and helping to fight infection. Ben is releasing a podcast soon with Jane Goldberg, a New York City practitioner well versed in the use of ozone for a variety of treatments, and has in the past interviewed Dr. Matt Cook about his own use of ten-pass ozone and ozone dialysis for a variety of health conditions.
While these tools are great and serve a certain purpose, nothing aside from hyperbaric oxygen exists that can drive oxygen levels higher than 10%, let alone 30%, 50%, or even double and triple oxygen absorption. This is possible only by filling the entire capacity of the red blood cell carrying system (100% saturation) and then by dissolving “extra” oxygen directly into the plasma (the liquid portion) of the blood. Under normal circumstances, the plasma will carry almost zero oxygen, but under pressure, the plasma is capable of holding up to as much as 15x more oxygen than the red blood cells. This process is extremely safe and very effective for delivering higher oxygen concentrations to the body's cells.
The graph below, taken from a study on hyperbaric simply shows that in both the hyperbaric treated group and the non-treated group the solid white boxes are the same size. This represents oxygen attached to the red blood cells. The difference is in those hash boxes above showing free-floating arteriole oxygen levels. The HBOT treated group clearly has a greater amount of free-floating oxygen.
How Does HBOT Work?
Your body's ability to absorb oxygen or exhale carbon dioxide is all about pressure gradients. Gases move from high pressure and high concentration to lower pressure and lower concentration.
As long as the pressure and concentration of oxygen in your environment and outside your body (in the air you breathe) is higher than the oxygen concentration inside your body, oxygen will move down that gradient into your body from your lungs, into your bloodstream, and eventually into your cells.
The amount and speed of oxygen moving down this gradient are dependent on the amount of pressure that exists. This is why training at altitude works and this is also why hyperbaric oxygen works.
See, there is 21% oxygen in the air no matter what the altitude you are at. The pressure of the atmosphere is what changes. At sea level, the pressure of air is 760mmHg and our oxygen pressure is 159 mmHg. At 8000 ft above sea level, the pressure of air is 564 mmHg and the pressure of oxygen is 118 mmHg. That difference in pressure is what makes the air “thinner” at altitude.
The same but opposite phenomenon occurs below sea level. As you descend below sea level the pressure increases and therefore the ability to absorb air and oxygen also increases. The deeper you go, the more pressure, the more your body can absorb.
In a hyperbaric environment, the amount of pressure exerted on a person and the amount of time they are in this pressurized environment can be controlled, enabling control over the amount of increased oxygen absorption that can be taken into one's cells. Once absorbed, this extra oxygen can be used for making ATP and energy, increasing the capacity for working tissues to perform, or increasing the capacity of healing and recovery. It's important to understand that you cannot achieve this effect by simply breathing a higher amount of oxygen or parking yourself at one of those popular “oxygen” bars or taking a shot of liquid oxygen: unless you combine this added oxygen with actual pressure, you're not going to absorb any extra oxygen!
10 Well-Established Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Benefits
While HBOT does not treat disease, it has been shown to help many people suffering from a wide range of chronic illnesses.
These conditions include autoimmune diseases, dementia, neuropathy, TBI and concussion, PTSD, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, cancer, tissue damage and trauma, autism, Lyme's disease and other coinfections, post-stroke recovery, and many more.
Hyperbaric is not a cure-all, nor is it meant to be applied as a therapy on its own and by itself. There is a strong synergy when this adjunctive therapy delivering high levels of necessary oxygen to the body's cells for increased healing capacity is combined with other functional medicine therapies, and the results are greater than the sum of their parts. Some of these other therapies include peptide therapy, red-light therapy, proper nutrition and supplementation, breathing techniques, IV drips, meditation, physical rehab, sauna, neurofeedback, and others.
If you look at the mechanisms behind most of the aforementioned conditions, (mitochondrial dysfunction, inflammation, immune system imbalances, nerve and brain degeneration, etc.) you will be able to see how at least one, if not many, of the ten primary benefits of hyperbaric therapy listed below help people suffering from these conditions and can help to make a positive impact in their recovery and quality of life:
- Increased oxygen perfusion – (immediate increase in free-floating oxygen available for tissue use)
- Neovascularization – Angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth)
- Increased white blood cell function – (improved neutrophil and macrophage activity)
- Nerve healing factors (increases in VegF, BDNF, HIF1)
- Wound healing- increased capacity for healing (PDGF, VegF, collagen production circulatory healing)
- Stem cell release (up to 8-fold increase in mesenchymal and CNS stem cells)
- Vasoconstriction (decrease edema and swelling from damaged tissues)
- Mitochondrial healing (increase in size, shape and number of mitochondria)
- Anti-inflammatory (reduction of inflammatory cytokines, increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines)
- Anti-microbial/microbiome balancing (reduction in anaerobic pathogens and increase in aerobic probiotics)
There are many different chamber types and configurations offering different amounts of pressure and different amounts of oxygen. Some of these chambers are for use in a clinical environment only while others can be utilized in home environments. Ben and I cover all these nitty-gritty details in our recent HBOT podcast episode that you can listen to here.
As amazing a tool as hyperbaric therapy is, and the many benefits it offers us therapeutically, it is important to consult with a practitioner knowledgeable on the subject to make sure you are choosing the proper equipment for your goals and needs.
That said, beginning a regimen of hyperbaric oxygen for performance and or recovery is a game-changer for those who take their athletics and their health seriously. As Ben mentioned, he is absolutely infatuated with his unit, and both he and his boys have been implementing their home unit for recovery and oxygen delivery enhancement nearly every day! My company, HBOT USA, offers equipment, training, education, and support—both for individuals looking to utilize hyperbaric in their homes as well as practitioners looking to open hyperbaric therapy centers or offer HBOT as an adjunctive therapy to their patients. Ben uses our Vitaeris 320 softshell HBOT chamber, and it's setup directly next to his infrared sauna in his so-called biohacking “zen den”.
For more, you can check out our “HBOTUSA” YouTube channel, where we release new videos weekly on everything hyperbaric including recent research topics, FAQs, myths and other educational videos. I also recently published a book on hyperbaric medicine, now available on Amazon: Oxygen Under Pressure: Revolutionize Health Care, Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Aging & Restore Health.
Please feel free to comment below with any questions or thoughts you have on HBOT or anything else you read in this article, and I'll be happy to respond.