Do you often find yourself feeling exhausted and drained, even after a good night's sleep?
If so, you may be one of the millions of people worldwide who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome. This condition can make even the simplest of tasks feel overwhelming and leave you feeling constantly depleted. While there is no cure, there are chronic fatigue syndrome treatments that can help alleviate the symptoms and improve your quality of life. One such treatment is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). This innovative therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized hyperbaric chamber, which allows the oxygen to dissolve into your blood plasma and reach areas of your body that may be starved of oxygen.
HBOT has been used for decades to treat a range of conditions, including decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning. But more recently, it has been shown to be effective in treating chronic fatigue as well. Studies have found that HBOT may be beneficial in increasing energy levels, improving cognitive function, and reducing pain and inflammation.1,2
In this article, we'll take a closer look at the link between chronic fatigue and hyperbaric treatment. We'll explore how HBOT works, the evidence behind its effectiveness, and what you can expect if you decide to try this therapy for yourself.
But First, What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating condition that causes extreme fatigue, weakness, and cognitive difficulties. It can significantly impact a person's quality of life and ability to work or engage in everyday activities. While the exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, there are a variety of therapies and treatments available to help manage the symptoms and improve overall health. One promising treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome is hyperbaric treatment. Let's take a closer look at how HBOT works, and what the research says about its effectiveness in managing chronic fatigue syndrome.
How Does Oxygen Help?
What is oxygen’s role in the body? Indeed, we all know that oxygen is essential to life but what exactly is the science behind it?
Respiration begins from the air we breathe in, which then travels all the way down to the lung alveoli (tiny air sacs). In the alveoli, gaseous exchange occurs, with oxygen diffusing into the bloodstream in the process. From the bloodstream via circulation, oxygen then enters our body cells. Once inside the cell, the mitochondria, also known as the energy factories of the body, use the oxygen to metabolize nutrients and create ATP – the energy currency of life.
However, if any part of this process is disrupted, it can lead to low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream and tissues, known as hypoxemia and hypoxia. This condition is commonly seen in diseases that affect lung capacity, heart disease, vascular disease, anemia, and dysfunctional cellular mitochondria. Chronic fatigue syndrome can also cause tissue hypoxia, leading to fatigue and a gradual slowing down of cellular processes due to a lack of energy (ATP).3
What Happens in Low Oxygen Levels? - The Stress Response
When your body senses low levels of oxygen, it initiates a stress response that involves the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.4 The main hormone released is cortisol, alongside adrenaline and norepinephrine, which help regulate the body's functions to cope with the stress. However, prolonged low oxygen levels put excessive stress on the body, which can lead to adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue causes a suboptimal cortisol output and can lead to more advanced stages of fatigue, eventually becoming chronic fatigue syndrome.
Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome include fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, mild depression, weight gain, infertility, dry skin, hair loss, hypoglycemia, loss of libido, palpitations, and slower healing.
Hyperbaric therapy for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The oxygen in the hyperbaric chamber is pressurized, which means that it is under greater pressure than the oxygen in the air we normally breathe. When you breathe in the hyperbaric oxygen, it dissolves into your blood plasma and travels throughout your body, even to areas that may be difficult to reach with traditional oxygen delivery methods.
This increased oxygen delivery has a range of benefits for your body, including reducing inflammation, promoting healing, and stimulating the growth of new blood vessels.
These benefits can be especially helpful for people with chronic fatigue syndrome, as CFS is often associated with inflammation and reduced blood flow to certain areas of the body.
What Does the Research Say About Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
While the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome is still relatively new, early research has shown promising results.
A study published in the Journal of Hyperbaric Medicine found that patients who received hyperbaric oxygen therapy reported significant improvements in energy levels, cognitive function, and overall quality of life1.
Another study found that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who received hyperbaric oxygen therapy had significant improvements in physical functioning, vitality, and social functioning compared to a control group2.
While these studies are still preliminary, they suggest that hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be a safe and effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. However, more research is needed to fully understand how HBOT works and its role as one of the chronic fatigue syndrome therapies.
So What Now?
If you're considering hyperbaric oxygen therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome, you should know that like any other therapy, the effectiveness of the therapy will depend on your individual health needs.
Therefore, seek your medical professional before using a hyperbaric chamber for oxygen therapy as a medical prescription is required. It is also advisable to check with a health professional for any contra-indication you may have to using hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
- Akarsu, S., Tekin, L., Ay, H., Carli, A. B., Tok, F., Simşek, K., & Kiralp, M. Z. (2013). The efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the management of chronic fatigue syndrome. Undersea & hyperbaric medicine : journal of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Inc, 40(2), 197–200.
- Mairal, E., Barberon, B., Laine, N., Coulange, M., & Guedj, E. (2021). Reversible widespread brain 18F-FDG PET hypometabolism in chronic fatigue syndrome treated by hyperbaric oxygen therapy. European journal of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging, 48(5), 1680–1681. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00259-020-05122-0
- Morris, G., Maes, M., Berk, M., & Puri, B. K. (2019). Myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome: how could the illness develop?. Metabolic brain disease, 34(2), 385–415. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11011-019-0388-6
- Chu B, Marwaha K, Sanvictores T, et al. Physiology, Stress Reaction. [Updated 2022 Sep 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541120/
This article is written by Dr. Callista Chinenye Emecheta a Medical Doctor and a Public Health Scholar at the University of Northampton, England.