When it comes to healing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or stroke or simply boosting your brain health, one of your most important allies is oxygen. Just because you can breathe doesn’t mean your brain is getting enough oxygen — you may need to improve your blood flow to the brain. Plus, you can super charge oxygenation of your brain with specific therapies such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves lying in a pressured, oxygenated chamber that gives you about 10 times more oxygen than normal. The increased pressure boosts oxygen supply to all the organs in your body, including your brain.
Check out these benefits associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy:
An oxygen boost is important because it allows cells to manufacture more energy. The added energy allows your brain to repair, regenerate, and function better.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy promotes the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, which improves blood flow and oxygenation to the brain. As we age our blood vessels start to stiffen and narrow (atherosclerosis). Improved oxygenation can help put the brakes on this, which is great for the brain.
The oxygen boost triggers gene changes that promote brain healing as well as sending more stem cell cells to the injured area.
The treatment is not without controversy. Because oxygen can’t be patented, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has not been through the same gauntlet of studies of pharmaceuticals, for instance. However, some studies and many clinical experiences show it improves brain function after concussions, even years later.
The treatment is also expensive for the average person, not always covered by insurance, and requires 20 to 40 one-hour treatments for optimal effects.
However, thanks to the healing effects of oxygen on the brain, it is increasingly becoming accepted as a helpful tool in recovery from concussions and TBIs.
In addition to helping heal the brain, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also recognized as helpful in healing diabetic wounds, burns, decompression sickness, certain chronic infections, including Lyme disease, and chronic health conditions.
Other ways to oxygenate your brain
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy isn’t the only way to deliver extra healing oxygen to your brain. One of the best ways to do that is to simply get your heart rate up on a regular basis.
This not only increases blood flow to and oxygenation of the brain, it also triggers the release of your body’s own healing compounds, including neuronal nitric oxide, endothelial nitric oxide, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps with memory, mood, and overall brain function and is best triggered by high-intensity interval training.
In fact, newer research shows that exercise that gets your heart rate up after concussion may actually help you recover faster than resting.
Look for underlying causes of poor blood flow to the brain
You should also be aware of underlying health issues causing poor blood flow to your brain. Although you may be able to breathe just fine, that doesn’t mean your brain is getting all the oxygen it needs. If your fingers, toes, and nose are always cold and your nail beds pale and slow to refill with color after you press on them, these are signs your brain may not be getting the oxygen it needs.
Potential causes of this can include anemia, hypothyroidism, smoking, low blood pressure, a heart condition, or an overly sedentary lifestyle.
In functional neurology, we look at both your brain function and any metabolic, dietary, or lifestyle factors that may be affecting your brain health or its ability to recover from TBI, stroke, or concussion. Ask my office for more advice.