Introduction written by Dr. Joe Mercola:
It is likely that you have heard of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) before and may be aware of the many conditions that it is useful for. Dr. Sonners has done an outstanding job of compiling a resource that allows you to more fully appreciate why this therapy is so helpful.
Since there is a load of deep science involved, telling this story is particularly challenging as it very easy to go down the science rabbit hole and confuse the average person. But the information in this book is presented in a highly readable format that the average person will easily understand.
Dr. Sonners carefully reviews the emerging evidence that shows the neuroprotective effects of HBOT in a wide range of multiple injuries and/or disorders. The most common clinical applications include decompression sickness from diving, carbon monoxide poisoning,[i] [ii] radiation-induced tissue injury, osteomyelitis, myofascial pain syndrome, wound healing, and thermal burns.[iii]
HBOT has also been shown to be useful in two other common conditions which are stroke and traumatic brain injury. Both of these are very common and tragically many are not aware of the potential of HBOT to provide enormous levels of recovery if treated properly.
Finally HBOT is also useful in the treatment of cancers that afflict nearly one third of the population. It is not a magic bullet for cancer, but if used carefully with metabolic therapies, it can provide a powerful synergy to destroy not only the cancer, but he circulating cancer stem cells.
But one of its most exciting uses may be to improve mitochondrial function and activate your stem cells to increase your healthspan.[iv] This is a big deal as many people are paying tens of thousands of dollars for stem cell transplants that are not covered by insurance.
Stem cells can be mobilized with HBOT from your bone marrow and fat tissue so they enter your blood stream and migrate to peripheral sites where they may facilitate recovery from injuries.[v] HBOT appears to be a reliable way to mobilize these stem cells.[vi]
Your capillaries, venules and arterioles form your microcirculation and it tends to radically decrease with age. This can contribute to, heart disease, stroke, muscle loss (sarcopenia) and bone loss (osteoporosis). HBOT has been repeatedly shown to be one of the few tools that can actually improve your microcirculation and decrease your risk of these diseases.
HBOT can also facilitate differentiation of your stem cells to form new blood vessels.[vii] This is likely why it has been used to treat wounds and accelerate healing.[viii] [ix] HBOT also stimulates nitric oxide synthesis in your bone marrow which also helps mobilize stem cells.[x] It has also been shown to be useful in those with vascular dementia.[xi] HBOT also enhances your body’s ability to create collagen to keep your skin looking younger and healthier.[xii]
I believe HBOT is a radically underutilized therapy in the United States largely because most people, including physicians, are not aware of its benefits. This book goes a long way to helping improve our understanding so more people will be able to easily access it in the future.
Chapter 1: TOO MANY SICK PEOPLE
My personal health goal is to live a full life, until I’m 120, with a high quality of life until one day when I peacefully don’t wake up.
When I talk about living such a long life, many people cringe. They say, “I don’t even want to be eighty or ninety, let alone 100 years old.” When I ask why, they typically share ideas and stories of sickness, pain, and total reliance on medications, machines, and twenty-four-hour care. In other words, loss of independence and loss of quality of life.
Like most of you reading this book, my health goal is not just to live a long life; it is to have a very high quality of life!
I am not interested in longevity if it means a slow decline in my health and my ability to function, nor if it means chronic debilitating illnesses and chronic pain. My goal for my own life, and for the lives of my family members and the patients I work with, is to learn how to best tap into the regenerative properties of our bodies and maximize our ability to perform, heal, and regenerate.
Being in practice for over fifteen years, I have never stopped learning or building the toolbox I use for myself and my patients to improve our capacity to heal. In 2006, I herniated a disc in my lower back while working around the house. I was incapacitated for a few weeks. Luckily, my wife is also a chiropractor; I was pain-free and back to work within about two weeks, but the nerve damage was very significant. As a result, I was left with right-side drop foot (basically a sensory and muscle strength loss in my right leg and foot). I figured once the disc herniation healed, I would see improvement and resolution in my right leg and foot issues as well. To my surprise, well over a year later, the neuropathy in my right leg persisted. In 2007, I was at a functional medicine conference walking around the vendor area and saw these interesting hyperbaric chambers. I had no idea what they were or what I would use them for, but they looked intriguing, so I went in one to try it. While inside, I closed my eyes, relaxed, and focused on my breathing; if nothing else, it was great quiet time.
After thirty minutes, they decompressed the chamber and I climbed out and continued to browse the vendor area. As I was walking around, I suddenly began to feel some tingling sensations in my foot that I had not felt in over a year since my injury. I decided to go back to the hyperbaric chamber exhibit and talk to the representative to see if what I was feeling had something to do with that chamber. He gave me a five-minute explanation as to why it was possible that hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, was helping, and handed me a book about the mechanism behind it. He had me go back in the chamber for another thirty minutes and agreed to treat me a few more times throughout the weekend. I spent a total of eight hours over four days inside the chamber. I read the entire book he gave me. When I left the conference that weekend, I had regained about twenty percent function in my foot and had learned enough about hyperbaric medicine to want more.
I bought a hyperbaric chamber for home use immediately and continued to treat myself. All of my chamber treatment time was spent reading more books and research on hyperbaric therapy. I was learning how it works, why it works, and what health issues people and clinics were utilizing it for, as well as what research was out there on using this therapy for different conditions. At the
time, the research was pretty limited. Thankfully, so much more research is available today than twelve years ago.
It took about four months of home treatments, but I finally regained full function and full feeling in my right leg and foot. Twelve years later, I have never had a problem since!
At that point, I was sold; I brought this tool into my clinic and began using it for a few of our tougher cases. With each use, I began seeing amazing results that many times I would have never believed if I did not see for myself.
While we utilize hyperbaric therapy often, HBOT is not the only therapy we use in our office. In this book, I will touch upon a few of those other strategies. However, I will focus on hyperbarics as a single strategy because it is one we have been using for over a dozen years, and as powerful and effective as it is, it’s still massively underutilized and misunderstood. I want to take the time to break it down so that everyone reading this book will have a complete understanding of this tool, how and why it works, and how important it is as a piece of the regenerative health care model. I also want to show how well it complements other strategies that are already being used by so many people and clinics today.
To truly understand regenerative medicine, we need to understand stress and the aging process. We need to understand how our bodies are designed to work optimally; then we can discuss how and why they degenerate and break down, especially why they degenerate prematurely as we see in many of our patients, in our family members, and maybe even in ourselves. It is only through this lens that regeneration makes sense and it becomes possible to heal, live longer, and, most importantly, improve our quality of life.
It may sound almost too good to be true that hyperbaric therapy can help to heal so many different conditions. I used to think the same thing until I had a chance to review the literature, see the results in my practice with our patients, and travel the world attending seminars—first as a student learning about hyperbarics and then, years later, as a teacher educating the public and other doctors. I assure you that this tool is that powerful.
Once you have a better understanding of the mechanism by which hyperbaric therapy works, you will understand why it is so effective. You see, HBOT is not a drug therapy for a specific condition. It is not even a treatment for disease. It is a way of delivering oxygen, a nutrient that every cell in your body already requires for optimal function, and it delivers this nutrient at levels that no other tool in existence can do. Hyperbaric therapy creates a surplus of oxygen inside your body and allows your body to do what it already knows how to do all by itself: HEAL!
I am going to discuss these concepts in detail throughout the book. By the time you finish, you will understand the principles of HBOT as well as any doctor practicing in the hyperbaric medicine, diving medicine, or functional medicine model. You will also learn strategies for healing yourself or your patients and the steps you need to take to make sure you are on the right path to regeneration.
Health care and the health care system in America in so many ways reflect the actual health of the average American. It is not well. In many nontraditional medical circles, we refer to the U.S. health care system as “sick care.” Modern medicine’s approach to most of today’s ailments is sickness
management versus improving health, a concept we will continue to explore.
When it comes to health and health care, the answer to the question “How did we end up here?” is complex, having much more to do with money, power, and politics than it does with improved patient outcomes. Having been in this industry for many years, I have seen improved health and improved patient outcomes drop lower and lower on the priority list of many regulations, laws, and general recommendations made by so many in the traditional model of “health care.”
The purpose of this book is to help re-center our focus. As health care practitioners, besides taking our oath, we have a moral and ethical obligation to tell the truth, to help improve the health of our patients, and to guide them through tough choices by giving them the absolute most reliable information we have at the time. Doctor means teacher. By definition, this requires us to lead and educate patients on their choices, not dictate their care based on our preferences. It means to deliver knowledge specifically for their benefit even when it may not be in our own best interest. Regardless of the economics of being in practice, my personal belief is that doing what is best for the patient is always in alignment with doing what is best for my practice. Even if it is not directly financially beneficial, doing the right thing always comes back around in multiples.
Health and Sickness Trends
We have seen a steady rise in life expectancy over the last 100 years. Someone born in 1900 had a life expectancy of only forty-six years, while someone born in 2000 has a life expectancy of about eighty-three. Life expectancy almost doubled over the span of a century. While there are tremendous social, economic, and physical repercussions of this, there are also health and health care–related implications.
This massive increase in life expectancy grew over a relatively short period. People who are in their eighties or nineties today are alive at least twenty-five years longer than what would have been predicted at the time of their birth. They did not know they would live this long, they did not prepare to live this long, and they did not take care of themselves or even know how to, or that they should. In many cases, this generation of elders is unfortunately stuck in the sickness care model.
This level of longevity is new, uncharted territory in the human life span, and for now, it continues to grow. Those in their sixties and seventies are continuing to move into this unknown territory, with centenarians being one of the highest percentage growth populations. The number of people reaching the age of 100 or older is growing year after year.
The main reasons for these increases in life span have to do with the management of infections, sanitation, and traumas. We have made massive gains in these arenas in the last 120-plus years. While we do have a major issue around superbugs because of antibiotic overuse worldwide, the advent of antibiotics, sterilization techniques, and traditional medicine approaches to trauma has saved lives and ultimately played a major role in the increased longevity we are seeing. At the same time, losing sight of the need to maintain our health, develop self-care techniques, manage stress, keep our food and water sources clean, and create truly healthy diets has led to the next epidemic in our heath: chronic diseases. Chronic diseases are those that do not necessarily kill us quickly and can be managed for decades through drugs and surgery. However, they will lead us
down the road of longevity without quality of life.
We are learning more and more about what this means, what the implications are, and what we need to do to manage our health better and differently to make sure that as we age chronologically we control the rate we age biologically better than we have in the past. We are learning that if we are going to be living longer, we had better take better care of ourselves. Similar to a car, we need some type of maintenance schedule—a self-care system to manage our cumulative wear and tear before it builds up to a point where the wheels start falling off.
Those in their sixties and seventies today are seeing in the lives of their parents the consequences of longevity without maintenance. Their parents have most likely spent more money on health care in their last five or ten years of life than in the entire rest of their life combined. They are on a minimum of five or six medications (many are on even more), some prescribed for a primary symptom while the rest are prescribed to manage or minimize the side effects of the first few prescriptions. Worst of all, their children watch helplessly as they lose function and quality of life, and ultimately lose hope. Based on the feedback I get from my patients, this experience has motivated them to make changes in their own life in hopes that they won’t end up in the same situation as they age.
Those in their forties and fifties have made the most changes in their lives around this self-care concept. The number of people thinking differently about their heath, shopping differently, exercising, and looking for balance and recovery is higher than ever before. Most importantly, these people are modeling healthy behavior for their children. It is a very exciting time to be a health care practitioner in this moment of transition. Our understanding of the issues is more developed and our toolboxes (our ability to help patients achieve their health goals through various technologies, tools, and guidance) are enormous. The opportunity to step into a community leadership role as a functional medicine or regenerative medicine practitioner—and make a real difference in the real health care of patients—is the best it’s ever been.
Prescribing multiple medications for decades to control symptoms, replacing and removing body parts, and managing diseases rather than preventing them in the first place is not serving our patients, or ourselves for that matter. This book is an introduction to the changes we see on the cellular level of chronic illness and chronic disease.
Now a few decades in, the chronic illness epidemic is leading us to a place where longevity is also being affected. If we continue to stay on our current path at our current rate, life span and quality of life are both going to face a decline to a point where our children today may be the first generation to not outlive their parents.
We are now facing a time of transition in our health and our health care. As a practitioner, I believe that we can have it all. We can continue to push the boundaries of longevity and life expectancy; we can continue to improve our quality of life index and move that needle closer to the edge of our life span; and we can see our health continue to improve throughout our later years. If these are our goals, we need to live in a way in which we care for ourselves not only to maintain our health but to actively improve it year after year. It is exciting to be a health care provider at the forefront of these changes and help lead the way to improve the lives of the people we care for.