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Brief Report: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Clinical Trial

Posted Aug 18 2011 6:28pm

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a popular offering in the alternative medical community. It is a therapy that has proven and approved uses (most notably treatment for decompression sickness or carbon monoxide poisoning). It has been proposed as a therapy for autism, and there is already a mixed body of literature on the subject, most with small and/or uncontrolled studies. The most recent study found no benefit.

Another study has now been released, this time from the University of California (UC San Francisco and UC Davis). Brief Report: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Clinical Trial is a small, uncontrolled study. The measure of benefit, at least by the abstract, is the CGI-I ( Clinical Global Impression, Improvement scale ), which is not particularly objective. Measures of cytokine levels were made, and no changes were observed. So, if any behavioral changes were derived from the HBOT, they were not correlated with cytokine levels.

We sought to determine whether HBOT leads to parental reported behavioral changes and alterations in cytokines in children with ASD. Ten children completed 80 sessions of HBOT and all improved by 2 points on the clinician-rated CGI-I scale (much improved) as well as several parent-completed measures of behavior. The lack of a control group limits the ability to determine if improvements were related to HBOT. Enrolled children did not exhibit abnormal cytokine levels at baseline and no significant changes in mean cytokine levels were observed. Although this study was limited by the small sample size and by the variable nature of cytokines, we found no evidence that HBOT affects cytokine levels or that cytokine levels were associated with behavioral changes.

In general, not a particularly strong study. I’ll note that UCSF’s recent MB12 study put a rather positive spin on a negative result. The fact that these researchers rated the children as improved is not really impressive to me. We don’t need more weak studies on alternative medicine. Those will never really answer any questions.

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