Israeli study on oxygen therapy proves effective for army vets with PTSD

Half of the participants were declared cured after the course of treatment.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In the first study of its kind in Israel, Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers have shown that delivering pure oxygen to the brain can reduce and even eliminate post-traumatic stress disorder in IDF soldiers.

Eighteen veterans were treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), where the soldiers were put in special chambers that deliver 100% pure oxygen to the brain under increased pressure. At the end of the 60-course treatment given over six weeks, half of the participants had no more symptoms of PTSD.

Symptoms include flashbacks, which can result in severe emotional or physical reactions; emotional detachment; memory problems; self-destructive behavior; and depression. A significant percentage of PTSD sufferers become suicidal.

Lead researcher TAU Prof. Shai Efrati explained why the treatment worked.

“Today we understand that treatment-resistant PTSD is caused by a biological wound in brain tissues, which obstructs attempts at psychological and psychiatric treatments,” said Efrati, who is also the director of the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at the Shamir Medical Center, which partnered the study.

“With the new HBOT protocols, we can activate mechanisms that repair the wounded brain tissue. The treatment induces reactivation and proliferation of stem cells as well as generation of new blood vessels and increased brain activity, ultimately restoring the functionality of the wounded tissues.”

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“We believe that in most patients, improvements will be preserved for years after the completion of the treatment,” said team member Dr. Keren Doenyas-Barak. “This study gives real hope to PTSD sufferers.”

The Israeli work backed up “many” studies done in recent years in the United States on the subject, according to the American National Hyperbaric Treatment Center. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it would offer HBOT treatments for veterans with PTSD “who had failed or seen little effects from traditional treatment methods.”

The two main methods of treating PTSD are through anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, and psychotherapy of various kinds, including the teaching of coping skills and repeated simulations of the problematic event in a safe environment.

The 2017 study reported that follow-up scans and neurological exams six months later showed that 75% of the initially abnormal areas of the brain of those treated were completely normal.

The Israeli team is already working on the next stage of research – trying to develop an objective method to diagnose PTSD, instead of having to rely on patients’ descriptions of how they feel, which can lead many times to misdiagnoses.

It would be especially helpful to Israeli combat soldiers, 30% of whom suffer from PTSD according to the World Health Organization, who have to appear before committees to establish their level of disability due to their psychological distress, in order to receive financial aid.

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The Israeli study was published Tuesday in the scientific journal PLOS One, a peer-reviewed publication that covers primary research in any scientific or medical discipline.