Professor Philip James says that we can’t live without oxygen and yet many in the medical profession seem to regard hyperbaric oxygen therapy as “quackery”.
Professor James has published an important new book called “Oxygen and the Brain”, a book which convincingly argues for a greater use of oxygen therapy in medicine. He also describes the dramatic 350 year history of this treatment.
At Castle Craig Hospital we use a large hyperbaric oxygen chamber to treat patients who have come into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. Many patients say it helps them to sleep better and improves their appetites and these two factors have an important impact on their recovery. The science shows that oxygen therapy stimulates the growth of stem cells and helps all parts of the body recover from injury, infection and physical trauma. It’s a remarkable and affordable therapy.
What rings loud and clear from every page of James’s new book is the protective nature of Oxygen and its healing potency.
What also comes across is James’ frustration with the medical establishment and their portrayal of such a benign benefactor as oxygen as a noxious contagion to be feared and disparaged. The fact is that the oxygen therapy is not on offer by the NHS and is not even known about by the vast majority of doctors. Professor James is particularly annoyed by the fact that it’s not taught in medical school.
The timing of Professor James’ book is interesting: exactly 350 years after a seminal work called “Aerochalinos”, by Dr. Nathaniel Henshaw. A member of the Royal Society, Dr. Henshaw was at the vanguard of what these days would be called “emerging” sciences.
Like many great ideas, his was a simple one: if some types of air are better for you than others, maybe more of the good air would be even better, in fact, medicinal.
His method was unconventional and the technologies employed, diverse: Drebbel had just invented the diving bell (1620), Boyle and Hooke, both fellow members of the Royal Society had just published the gas laws (1662), and laws of elasticity (1660) – all of which were necessary precursors for Henshaw’s pressurised “chamber”. Henshaw’s chamber worked with compressed air – Oxygen was not discovered by Priestly until 1770.
But the Age of Enlightenment only applied to an elite few in those days and new ideas like this were very unfamiliar to a society still emerging from the Dark Ages. Dr. Henshaw knew that such avant-garde science would be alarming to some, threatening to others and certainly contrary to the hegemony of the time. He knew his detractors would be legion and their judgment punitive. What’s striking is that the medical profession of today seem to have the same hostile approach to oxygen therapy that was the case 350 years ago.