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Oxygen Therapy: Fact or Fad?

Oxygen is a good thing, but can you have too much of a good thing? Perhaps. Oxygen therapy, hooking up to an oxygen tank for a few breaths of pure oxygen, is one of the latest health fads.

According to proponents, oxygen therapy can cure a wide range of ailments including cancer, exposure to environmental pollutants, aging and can also improve sports performance. Obviously, we need oxygen to survive, but what about these claims? Does oxygen therapy work?

How do our bodies use oxygen? Each breath we take brings air into the lungs. The air that we breathe is approximately twenty percent oxygen. Seems low, doesn’t it? The low percentage of oxygen is actually a good thing because oxygen is highly reactive and will begin to damage the lungs after a few hours. In the lungs, oxygen attaches to our red blood cells and is transported to all of the other cells in our body to maintain cell and body functions. It makes sense that more oxygen means that we’re better able to maintain body functions, right? Except that once our red blood cells are fully saturated with oxygen, they are holding their full capacity and cannot take on more. What does this mean? If you are healthy, then your red blood cells are carrying all the oxygen they can. Therefore, breathing pure oxygen will not help you or improve your performance.

Granted, people with specific diseases like emphysema or other lung and heart diseases often benefit from a higher dosage of oxygen, but in these cases, oxygen is a medical treatment prescribed for a specific disorder. Inhaling pure oxygen is also used to combat carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation, and other conditions that reduce our capacity to use oxygen. Again, in these cases, oxygen is a treatment prescribed by a physician to treat a specific condition.

What about athletes who claim that oxygen improves their performance? Controlled research studies have shown that it is a placebo. Athletes can’t tell the difference between pure oxygen and regular air; they just think they can. Because they think that inhaling pure oxygen is good for them, they report feeling better afterwards. Likewise, medical studies have not shown oxygen therapy to fulfill any of the other claims. Looks like we have to keep on looking for the cure for aging, sorry.

So, if you like being fashionable, try an oxygen bar. But, remember that the oxygen is only helping your ego and sense of style. Too much exposure can actually hurt you.

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