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Is Hyperbaric Oxygen a Viable Therapy for Hepatitis C?

Nicole Cutler L.Ac.

August 4, 2010

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Being enclosed in a pressurized chamber filled with oxygen can help a variety of health problems – however this treatment’s benefit to those with Hepatitis C has not been determined.

The medical use of oxygen at a level higher than atmospheric pressure, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is creating a buzz in the Hepatitis C community. This interest is not surprising, considering the purported benefits this noninvasive treatment has on human health. As the positive impact oxygen has on the body’s systems becomes better realized, the list of conditions helped by this fascinating treatment continues to grow.

What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

While hyperbaric oxygen therapy delivers 100 percent oxygen to the recipient, the air we normally breathe contains far less oxygen. In our atmosphere, air generally contains:

  • 21 percent oxygen
  • 78 percent nitrogen
  • 1 percent is a combination of the noble gases and carbon dioxide

In air, the exact concentration of these gases is determined by atmospheric pressure, a measurement that is affected by weather and altitude. To deliver 100 percent oxygen, a hyperbaric chamber is needed to allow the pressure around the body to be increased. This technology is well-established, as all commercial aircraft are hyperbaric chambers equipped with oxygen breathing systems.

While the air we breathe generally provides a sufficient quantity of oxygen for tissue damage repair, delivering 100 percent oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber increases the amount of oxygen dissolved in the bloodstream. Tissue damage is frequently accompanied by capillary damage – a combination that hinders oxygen distribution. Even if the amount of oxygen in the blood is normal, tissue and capillary damage can lead to a severe oxygen deficit. By simultaneously raising the air pressure around the body and increasing oxygen concentration, normal cellular repair mechanisms are believed to improve.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Approved Uses

Nearly all medical clinics, doctor’s offices and hospitals use U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs and medical devices for “off-label” use on a consistent basis. Although “off-label” use for hyperbaric oxygen therapy is common, the FDA requests that unapproved uses be supported by scientific data and administered under the supervision of a licensed physician. Currently, there are fourteen conditions that are FDA approved for treatment with hyperbaric therapy:

  1. Actinomycosis
  2. Air or Gas Embolism
  3. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Smoke Inhalation
  4. Clostridial Myonecrosis (Gas Gangrene)
  5. Cyanide Poisoning
  6. Crush Injury, Compartment Syndrome and Other Acute Traumatic Ischemias
  7. Decompression Sickness (the Bends)
  8. Diabetic Wounds
  9. Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections
  10. Osteomyelitis (Refractory)
  11. Radiation Tissue Damage (Osteoradionecrosis)
  12. Severe Anemia
  13. Skin Grafts and Flaps (Compromised)
  14. Thermal Burns

It is obvious from the conditions above that Hepatitis C – or any other infectious liver disease – is not included on this FDA approval list.

Is There Scientific Data for Hyperbaric Oxygen and Hepatitis C?

Because of the FDA’s exception for “off-label” use, there could still be reason to consider hyperbaric oxygen therapy for those with Hepatitis C if supportive scientific data exists. Unfortunately, that data is lacking.

However, a Russian team did find a potential hepatitis benefit for hyperbaric oxygen back in 2009. Upon studying animals with chronic toxic hepatitis, the researchers found that hyperbaric oxygenation during the first three days after a liver resection improved postoperative outcome. While this study is interesting, it is not comparable to hyperbaric oxygen therapy for humans with Hepatitis C.

Inspiring hope for new therapeutic options in hepatology, a study to treat alcoholic liver disease with hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been launched by Castle Craig Hospital and the Department of Hepatology at The University of Edinburgh. This Phase I study is currently in progress, and aims to determine if there is an improvement in liver function following hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Although there is a substantial list of conditions that the FDA has approved as treatable with hyperbaric oxygen, Hepatitis C is not among them. Supporters may claim that improving liver health or defeating a hepatitis virus are ideal, “off-label” uses for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, but the evidence just isn’t there yet.

References:

http://springfield.news-leader.com/lifestyle/health/20050322-Hyperbarictreat.html, Hyperbaric treatment increases blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity, Wes Johnson, Retrieved August 1, 2010, News-Leader.com, 2010.

http://www.chamberofhope.org/?page_id=47, Medical Evidence, Retrieved July 31, 2010, Chamber of Hope of the Selama Grotto Cerebral Palsy Endowment, 2010.

http://www.hyperbaricoxygentherapy.org.uk/article-letter-from-the-chairman-8, Letter From the Chairman, Peter McCann, Retrieved August 1, 2010, Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Trust, 2010.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/139712.php, University Of Edinburgh And Castle Craig Hospital Launch Pilot Study For Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy In The Treatment Of Alcoholic Liver Disease, Retrieved July 31, 2010, MediLexicon International Ltd., 2010.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20000127, [Correction of glutamine metabolism impairments in the operated liver with chronic hepatitis by hyperbaric oxygen], Savilov PN, Retrieved July 31, 2010, Biomedit͡sinskai͡a khimii͡a, July-August 2009.

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