HBOT has proven effects on the DNA, the mitochondria and stem cells, and seems to operate through mechanisms mediated by signal induction (drug-like effects on DNA and nitric oxide).
Mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) uses about 80% of the O2 delivered to the cell and produces energy at the rate ADP is formed from ATP.22
“HBO treatment under therapeutic conditions clearly and reproducibly induced DNA damage in leukocytes… damage was found immediately at the end of the treatment, while 24 hours later, no effect was found… The results suggest that the HBO-induced DNA effects are efficiently repaired…”23 And they do not occur in subsequent treatments. Some sort of protective mechanism seems to be generated by HBOT. “Optimal pressure for treating patients with brain injury is 1.5 ATA… [because] cerebral glucose metabolism is balanced at this pressure… for 40-60 minutes.”24
HBOT acts as a signaling drug to the mitochondria in a way similar to phototherapy and these oxygen-sensing mechanisms can trigger cell-protective responses. HBO “impacts cell electrophysiology directly, with a potential to hyperpolarize neurons and mitochondria and prevent cell swelling…”25
HBO mobilizes stem/progenitor cells from bone marrow by a nitric oxide-dependent mechanism. It looks as though HBO may also activate neural stem cells.26 “Previous studies suggest that HBO treatment promotes the proliferation of neurocytes… following hypoxic-ischemic brain damage.”27 The study concluded that HBO promoted neural stem cell activity (the production of new nerve cells).
Endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) contribute to wound healing. HBO enhances wound healing. “HBO-mediated mobilization of EPCs is associated with increased lower limb spontaneous circulatory recovery and enhanced closure of ischemic wounds…”28
22Jain, 2004, 18.
25J. Zhang, (Ed.). (2008). Hyperbaric oxygen for neurological disorders. Flagstaff, AZ: Best Publishing Company, 103.