Oxygen bars may be harmful to your health

February 11, 2003
Blog Entry, Health

At health spas, mall kiosks, and “oxygen bars” across the country, people are paying to breathe oxygen. For about a dollar a minute, enthusiasts inhale 95 percent oxygen ? air offers a paltry 21 percent O2 ? and report that it relieves a variety of maladies from hangovers to headaches. The practice may be a bad idea, according to scientists studying the damaging effects of free radicals ? highly reactive molecules derived from oxygen.

From the Vanderbilt University Medical Center:
High-intake oxygen can be harmful

At health spas, mall kiosks, and “oxygen bars” across the country, people are paying to breathe oxygen. For about a dollar a minute, enthusiasts inhale 95 percent oxygen ? air offers a paltry 21 percent O2 ? and report that it relieves a variety of maladies from hangovers to headaches.

The practice may be a bad idea, according to Vanderbilt University Medical Center scientists who are studying the damaging effects of free radicals ? highly reactive molecules derived from oxygen.

“We’re starting to think that oxygen is not as benign as many believe it is,” said Dr. L. Jackson Roberts II, professor of Pharmacology and Medicine.

Roberts and Joshua P. Fessel, an M.D./Ph.D. student, have discovered a new class of compounds, called isofurans, which form when free radicals attack cell membrane lipids. Isofurans, whose production is favored by high oxygen concentrations, are expected to be a useful tool for assessing the role of free radicals and oxidative injury in disease and for evaluating the effectiveness of antioxidant therapies.

Already, the investigators have demonstrated that isofuran levels increase when animals breathe 100 percent oxygen for as little as three hours. These findings, part of the group’s work reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrate that free radical processes are at work in hyperoxia-induced lung injury. “We suspected this to be the case, but we didn’t have the tools to show it until now,” Roberts said.

Hyperoxia-induced lung injury is a key problem in intensive care units. Patients on ventilators can only breathe oxygen concentrations up to 60 percent for prolonged periods of time. Higher concentrations ? though of potential benefit to the body’s organs ? lead to severe lung damage.

The ability to measure isofuran production will make it possible to study the oxygen-induced damage and to evaluate potential therapeutic interventions like antioxidants, the researchers said.

“The question is, is there something we can do that would allow clinicians to actually use higher concentrations of oxygen safely, and therefore better oxygenate patients who are sick?” Roberts said. “We don’t know yet, but now we have a way to monitor that.”

The fact that isofuran levels increased in the lung after only three hours of exposure to 100 percent oxygen ? indicating that free radical damage is a very early event ? surprised the researchers. They also found evidence for the release of a trigger for programmed cell death, cytochrome c, in the lung at three hours.

“Most physicians are certainly aware that extended periods of exposure to 100 percent oxygen is harmful, but three hours would not be considered an extended period of time,” Fessel said. The short time frame of free radical damage opens questions about potential damage to the lungs of patients who breathe 100 percent oxygen during surgical procedures and to the lungs of those “oxygen bar” enthusiasts.

For a healthy individual, any damage that results from breathing high concentrations of oxygen for a short time is likely to be insignificant and spontaneously repaired, Fessel said. “But what about the person who has some underlying infection or other problem in the lung?” he asked.

Roberts and colleagues, including Dr. Jeffrey Balser, James Tayloe Gwathmey Professor and Chair of Anesthesiology, and Dr. Kenneth Smithson, assistant professor of Anesthesiology, are launching a clinical study to evaluate how free radical processes might impact lung function in surgery patients. The study could suggest that lower oxygen levels would be beneficial, Roberts and Fessel said, or that antioxidant interventions should be tested to prevent free radical damage.

The newly identified isofurans are actually the second set of compounds that Roberts and colleagues have linked to free radical processes. The group’s 1990 discovery of isoprostanes, prostaglandin-like products of free radical injury, made it possible for researchers to detect and monitor free radical reactions in human beings for the first time. Measuring isoprostanes quickly became the “gold standard in the field,” Roberts said, and it has been used to implicate free radicals in disease processes ranging from atherosclerosis to neurodegeneration.

But isoprostanes are not perfect measures of free radical processes. Because the formation of these compounds becomes disfavored when oxygen levels climb above 21 percent, they do not provide an accurate measure of free radical reactions that occur in the presence of high oxygen concentrations. The isofurans overcome this limitation. High oxygen levels favor the chemical reactions that produce isofurans, making them useful indicators of free radical damage in high oxygen settings like hyperoxia-induced lung injury, as the investigators showed, and for other oxygen-associated disease states like retinopathy of prematurity.

The investigators also have measured isofurans to assess oxidative injury in disease states involving mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria ? the power plants of cells ? use oxygen in a complex series of energy-generating chemical reactions. They also generate free radicals. When mitochondria are not fully functional, oxygen levels inside the cell theoretically climb. Roberts and Fessel postulated that free radical activity under these conditions might result in isofuran production.

Indeed, they found that isofuran levels were elevated in brain tissue samples from Parkinson’s patients ?Parkinson’s disease is known to involve mitochondrial dysfunction ?whereas isoprostane levels were unchanged. The investigators will continue to explore disease states where mitochondrial dysfunction is thought to play a role.

“Measuring isofurans really complements measuring isoprostanes,” Roberts said. “Together the two of them provide a complete picture of oxidant stress.”

The two also can serve as a sort of “oxygen sensor,” Fessel and Roberts said. The researchers found that the ratio of isofuran to isoprostane concentrations in normal tissues ? the compounds are produced by ongoing free radical processes ? provides an indication of tissue oxygenation. In oxygen-rich tissues like brain and kidney, isofuran levels were two to three times higher than isoprostane levels. In the oxygen-poor liver, isoprostanes predominated.

“The isofuran/isoprostane ratio is really a measure of steady state tissue oxygenation,” Fessel said. The ratio should be useful for studying disease states where oxygen supply is perturbed, like peripheral vascular disease, or for assessing the effectiveness of so-called “blood substitutes” ? compounds that carry oxygen to tissues, he said.

Other authors of the PNAS study include Ned A. Porter, Ph.D., Stevenson Professor of Chemistry, Dr. James R. Sheller, associate professor of Medicine, and Dr. Kevin P. Moore of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the PhRMA Foundation.

Oxygen bars may be harmful to your health

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32 Responses to Oxygen bars may be harmful to your health

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  2. Oxygen Party Bar March 23, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    The studies performed by Vanderbilt University Medical Canter are interesting and do add some new thought on free radicals. The point they are ignoring is that an oxygen bar session is for 10 or 15 minutes, 30 minutes at the most. The study performed at Vanderbilt were for 3 hours which they considered a short time, but is a much longer period of time than one spends on an oxygen bar. The purpose of an oxygen bar is to increase the oxygen level in ones blood to above 99% from possibly 96% or 94% If a person is as low as 86% they may be on oxygen full time. An oxygen bar can increase ones blood oxygen level to max in about 3 or 4 minutes. When one is 10 years old, they usually carry 100% of the oxygen ones blood can carry. As we age and are exposed to smog, smoke and other toxins, our lungs become less effective and a 10 minute boost of oxygen really does make one feel better and helps fight off many diseases. When prescribed properly, oxygen can be a miracle drug. When misused, it can kill you. For more information on Oxygen Party Bars visit OxygenPartyBar.com.
    A new product on the market is oxygen in a can, or Sports Oxygen where on can get about 70 breaths of oxygen enriched air at about 90% oxygen. The advantage is the portability of the can compared to an oxygen bar or oxygen tanks. Visit SportsOxygen.com for more on this product. These can be great while traveling at high altitude or competing in sports where one becomes exhausted. Specially bike riding, or motorcycle races.

  3. Pete February 13, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    I believe the way you felt the next day had more to do with the byproducts from the toxic fumes you breathed in than the oxygen. The oxygen probably helped oxydize some of those chemicals from the fumes but getting ready of them from your body was likely a preferred thing to do. I doubt seriously there is anything to worry about the oxygen itself. I agree with others, make sure you always keep your higher intake of antioxidants in your diet.

  4. nitrox January 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    100% oxygen will kill you. It takes about 3 days of continuous use.
    Divers use enriched Air – nitrox. Nitrox has a higher content of oxygen usually 32-40%. A lot of divers swear by nitrox with great results.

    If you are worry about free radicals, eat foods high in anti-oxidants.

    By the way snake oil is really high in omega3 fats, which is an essential nutrient for good health. Another case of FDA, AMA and big pharma suppressing cures which hurt their revenues. High cholesterol eat more omega 3, fiber & vitamin C.

  5. e December 30, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    “It is sort of like horse breeders in the early 1900s telling everyone how dangerous cars were. They, too, thought that they were going to be driven out of business. In actuality, there are now three times as many horses in the United States as there were at the turn of the century…go figure.”

    “Wait! Cars are dangerous right?

  6. Sue October 27, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    My doctor gave me oxygen with a face mask last week in her office. I had been exposed to some toxic fumes and she thought this would help clean my system out. She said it was 100 percent oxygen, but the mask had holes in it. I don’t know if I was breathing in 50 percent oxygen or what. Afterwards I felt really good, kind of like I was relaxed from drinking wine. I was relaxed all day and night. The next day, I didn’t feel so good, seemed to feel worse than ever, and my fibromyalgia was om a flare up, and still is. My doctor insists it didn’t do anything harmful to me, but I am really upset that I used oxygen without researching first…..I think it may have damaged me. I hope I heal from this.

  7. Dave October 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    Would you care to tell me the name of the oxygen machine you’ve bought, or the link to it? Because I have been looking around for a decent one on ebay, and I still couldnt really find a good one.

  8. Marlon Weaver October 17, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    Good blog, thanks! I really like it.

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  10. Anonymous October 17, 2009 at 7:24 pm #

    I know nothing about your condition however I have been researching colloidal silver and hydrogen peroxide therapy, just thought you might want to look into it. Best of luck!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Anonymous October 17, 2009 at 7:45 am #

    Did you even read this article? Its studying the effects of breathing about 95% oxygen. Air is only about 20% oxygen. Why study it? Well many people are going to oxygen bars that claim to relieve some difficulties. What if they cause larger problems, while relieving some minor difficulties. Now, when you ask why study cancer, i cant give you an answer. You probably live under a rock and no no one that has been affected by this atrocity to man-kind.

  12. Anonymous August 24, 2009 at 3:32 am #

    I have sarcoidosis of the lungs and I’m presently on 8 lpm of oxygen constantly for this illness. For some reason, my pulmonologists does not object because the more I try to walk around, the shortness of breath becomes more severe. The oxygen level in my blood drops quickly and without the consistent oxygen from a compressor, I will hyperventilate and get anxiety attacks.
    In some cases, I have to breathe in 2 different machines at the same time to get back to a level where I feel comfortable (8 lpm per machine) especially about an hour after I eat a meal. The food digestion process seems to absorb most of the oxygen. If someone knows about this illness or are experiencing similar results, it would good to speak on it so others will know.
    I have two pulmonologist and each time I go to them with the details of my illness, they simply say it’s a result of the sarcoidosis so continue to do what I’m doing! Whatever works and makes me feel better!? The oxygen combined with prenisone, spiriva, and zopenix for the nebulizer as well as revatio for pulmonary hypertension and I still get short of breath from a short walk from one room to another in my house.
    Any feedback from those aware of my circumstances will be appreciated. I’m not a smoker and until the misdiagnosis occurred, I was very active for a person in my mid-forties when this started 10 years ago.

  13. Anonymous July 7, 2009 at 1:23 am #

    And another thing to follow up: read Wikipedia on ‘Oxygen toxicity’.


    Interesting and enlightening stuff.

  14. Anonymous July 7, 2009 at 1:21 am #

    I read a lot of comments saying “we breathe it so it must be good for us”. Let’s use water then as an example, I’m pretty sure people don’t have stocks in waterbars here. If you drink 2 liters a day it may not be bad for your health and even required. But if you drink 8 liters a day it will likely kill you. Is water bad? No, but in quantity it is. The same goes for anything, including oxygen. Too much of anything will kill you, and for some things the “too much” limit is lower than you’d think.

    Now about oxygen: oxygen is a highly reactive gas that binds with pretty much anything. It is used to fuel rockets. Hydrochloric acid is, by comparison, safer. However, our body has developed a lot of mechanisms to copy with its toxicity because of the urgent need to use it as oxidizer together with the fuel we eat to drive our bodies. Overwhelm those mechanisms by using too much oxygen, and see what happens. It is not a good idea if you value your health.

    And to the people who say they feel better after visiting an oxygen bar: lots of people feel better after going to a coffeeshop in Amsterdam. That doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

  15. Anonymous May 21, 2009 at 12:25 am #

    Oxygen may be harmful to your health? Are you trying to say that’s a fact base on study?

    The BRAIN takes up to 20% of the body oxygen, oxygen is very good for you, try going without it it for 20mins.
    Why do a study on oxygen and cancer?

    There is a video showing how oxygen cure cancer and other things. http://suppressedminds.com and you tell me how oxygen is bad?

  16. Anonymous May 13, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    Its the worse thing in the world I hate it very much and wish that I never had to go back to it. My teacher doesn’t even look at me she hates me so much it’s great, just wish I could make her quit her job.

  17. Anonymous May 13, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    i love you

  18. Anonymous May 13, 2009 at 8:43 am #

    none of this really tells me if 100% oxygen is bad for you it just has other peoples thoughts

  19. Anonymous April 27, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    100% oxygen will kill a human in less than 5 minutes. How can you believe any of this article. The low amount of non medical oxygen that these oxygen bars deliver is rejuvenating NOT harmful!

  20. Anonymous April 7, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    You are very brave, and in my opinion foolish to experiment on yourself like this.
    You should consider yourself lucky to not have done immediate damage to yourself in your 5 hour experiment, and hope that you have not done any permanent damage to your lungs.
    I respect the fact that you don’t believe everything you read on the internet, but you should also not believe everything your brother tells you either.
    Research changes the ‘truths’ of the time. In the 50’s Thalidomide and tobacco were considered safe. Just because some people think that elevated oxygen levels are good for you does not make it true.

  21. Anonymous March 7, 2009 at 10:04 pm #

    I bought an oxygen concentrator off ebay because I always read extra oxygen makes you feel more energized, helps you digest your food/burn fat and makes you age less fast. I have no medical conditions other than headaches. So now that I got my machine (which btw will output up to 10LPM), I use it regularly. I use it around 2LPM at night when I sleep, and guess what? My headaches are gone! Ok now I use it when I exercise on the treadmill or elliptical with a mask, turned up to 10LPM and it really keeps me from tiring out too fast. I have more endurance and can really get a great work out. I am 25 years old and healthy. After reading about “dangers of too much oxygen” which is completely reverse of everything I’ve heard before…even my paramedic brother says you can’t get too much oxygen. So after reading about it I was like, Ok I’ll test something. I turned it up full blast and put on a non-rebreather mask, so I was getting around 95% oxygen, for about 5 hours. I did notice SOME side effects. These were a very dry mouth (as oxygen is very dry) and when I would take a deep breath, it didn’t hurt, but it was an odd unusual discomfort. But within 10 minutes of stopping the oxygen I was back to normal. I really don’t think there is any danger like they’re saying. Espically when it comes to the low flow of oxygen bars.

  22. Anonymous February 16, 2009 at 7:40 am #

    It seems like the author of the article was trying to come up with a headline that would sell their story to the masses instead of being true to the matters at hand. Nobody is inhaling 100% oxygen at oxygen bars. These scientists have never claimed to see or test an oxygen bar machine. Where did the oxygen bar topic even come from? They are reporting results from lab experiments, not the oxygen bar at the airport. Why can’t people stay on topic???

  23. Anonymous March 21, 2008 at 11:15 am #

    more money than sense…its amazing how fanatical those ignorant in even basic toxicology can be in support of a snake oil scam. only helps when the cons post to back them up. damaging to your health, likely not, save for concerns of poor sanitation. damaging to your wallet, a fool and his money are soon departed.

  24. Anonymous March 4, 2008 at 9:20 pm #

    Most doctors are idiots who just so happen to pass their exams in school…they aren’t super humans that know everything. Who knows…your doctor could have been a “C” student. Most doctors don’t really listen…they prescribe pills for symptoms (which most people don’t even need anyways). I have been to the oxygen bars many times and I LOVE it. I always feel awesome afterwards. I am a massage therapist and am looking to offer the oxygen bar with my treatments. Aromatherapy works. Besides it’s not like people are sitting there for hours day after day. One session…for a few minutes…every one in a while (with a unit that is properly care for) isn’t going to hurt you. If someone has allergies they should already know, and should obviously avoid the aromas that they are allergic to. duh!

  25. Anonymous October 9, 2007 at 1:19 pm #

    Your statement highlights a few good points, but completely ignores many additional considerations.

    Yes: Tony Robbins and many other health experts recommend energizing your body through oxygenation. No: this is not high levels of oxygen that reach damaging levels. The concentration being inhaled remains at the approximate concentration of 21%. I don’t believe that the article states that occasionally breathing too deeply was detrimental.

    You argue that the “scientists” are suggesting that yoga is the dangerous, and I cannot understand how you reach that conclusion. Tony Robbins does not have a scientific or medical background other than the study neurolinguistic programming and motovational skills. The individuals who study this material and publish articles in the Journal of Clinical Investigation regarding hyperoxic lung injury as well as multiple other medical journals. This is different than the concept of pay me $$ for my next motivational seminar.

    Reality check is that that oxygen is a potent oxidizer. It has a lot of beneficial uses, and a lot of potentially dangerous ones. High concentrations of oxygen for extended periods of time have been tested and identified to alter brain function, including affecting the hippocamus in an attempt to counteract the CO2 depletion.

    Answer: oxygen is required for life. In the concentration that it exists at, give or take a few %. It follows the dose response concept which is the fundementals of toxicology. Too much of anything is detrimental.

  26. Anonymous September 15, 2007 at 11:14 am #

    I stood up got “drunk” and nearly passed out. I had to crawl to my recliner.
    I work for a medical supply company and just wanted to try it out, direct blast
    from the tank to the face and didn’t breathe anything but the O2. Held it in, exhaled and went for more blasts. Started feeling funky. Stood up, got wobbley and almost passed the fugg out! I had to crawl back to my recliner where I wasn’t sure if I was going to croak or not. Heck I could hardly think! Lasted only for about 25 secs though until it cleared up.

    Yeah moderation. Hell of a high though.

  27. Cherokee August 13, 2007 at 2:58 pm #

    Drinking too much water will kill you…. taking 100,000 Mg of Vitamin C a day for a month will kill you…

    Its called Moderation people!!

    Common sense tells me… the world has less Oxygen today then it did 100 years ago… but yet Cancer rates are climbing faster and faster…..

    Why not do 10mins a day before you go to bed for say 3lm? give you body a little boost before it heals itself during sleep…

  28. Kurt Harris May 1, 2007 at 10:31 am #

    So you’ve read all the above comments about how great oxygen is and how bad oxygen is. I am an entrepreneur and one of my business ventures is oxygen bar rentals. We rent out oxygen bars to business parties, private parties ect. Out of the many many people that have had sessions at my bars not a single case has ever come up where the persons health was in jeopardy. Not one case in the country has come up that has directly linked a person’s health to an oxygen bar. If there is one, and believe me I have looked, I’d like to see it.

    Now, 90% of the people who have tried sessions at my bars have all said amazing things about it. “It totally took away my migraine/hangover/body aches”. “It relaxed/invigorated/engergized me!”. The other 10% said they felt no different. I too don’t feel any effects from an oxygen session unless it’s for over an hour, then I feel warm and fuzzy inside, but the oxygen you breathe from a bar is less than 60% pure! You’re also breathing in the surrounding air when you breathe through you nose and also the compressor does not purify to 100%. Maybe 90%-95%.

    If you have had chemotherapy, Bleomycin to be exact, then you MIGHT have a problem with oxygen at 100% pure for around 3 hours as the studies have shown. But with the facts in the above paragraph, it is impossible to get that dosage with an oxygen bar. You can only get it through medically issued oxygen canisters.

    Oxygen is good, oxygen is great. It won’t harm your body, or seal your fate. Get your suck on! Holla.

    Special K.

  29. Anonymous October 2, 2006 at 11:12 am #

    Your body can take up so much oxygen at once. It depends on the concentration of hemoglobin, anything that does not bind to it becomes free radicals and oxygenates something else. (lungs, liver, even your brain etc)

    Taking in high concentrations of O2 isn’t the same as taking in 20% of O2 and breathing out 50% of that that is not used.

    Breathing, and breathing highly o2 concentrated air is not the same.

  30. Anonymous September 18, 2006 at 2:33 pm #

    I can’t believe how misinformed the first two comments were! There is plenty of research proving how overuse of high concentrations of oxygen can be life threatening. Obviously they must have some stock in oxygen bars. This trendy idea may be harmless in short periods for a healthy user as long as it is sanitary, and the dispenser isn’t contaiminated with bacteria etc. Also some of the aroma additives trigger allergic reactions and are bacteria filled too. But hey, if that is what you want to do, go for it. I am concerned enough about how clean the restroom is, or the glass ware in a bar, i don’t think that is where i want to try oxygen therapy. I would rather talk to my doctor about it.

  31. Anonymous November 24, 2003 at 7:59 am #

    Hi, just wanted to add my 2 cents …
    Its an amazing FACT that oxygen therapies are used in many forms of traditional and alternative medicines.
    Its also fact that aromatherapy is used in many cultures world wide—
    Fact again that our city environments “stink” and contain less than 20% oxygen in the air we breath.
    So, maybe one might think that an Oxygen Bar with aromas is a scam?
    I for sure do not… why not join us at the OxygenForum.com and share your experiences,thoughts and anything else on oxygen related topics and products.
    International OxygenForum [www.oxygenforum.com]

  32. Anonymous May 9, 2003 at 1:38 pm #

    So, these guys are saying that if we get too much oxygen into our systems, we are potentially harming ourselves. Riiight.

    First of all, oxygen bars and medical oxygen (two distinctly different products) are not the only way to get a lot of oxygen into your body. Yoga instructors have been teaching deep breathing techniques for millenia. Basically, they teach people to breathe in the following ratio: Inhale for a count of 4, Hold Breath for a Count of 6, Exhale for a Count of 7. So, you could inhale for a count of 8, hold for 12, exhale for 14 and so on. What this does is (1) allows a deep breath of air to reach your lungs, (2) allows your lungs to extract all of the oxygen from the air and (3) allows your body to get rid of the Co2 that is the byproduct of normal cell function. The deeper you inhale, the more air you get; the longer you hold your breath, the more oxygen your lungs take in.

    Tony Robbins, the most effective motivational speaker in the world today, teaches his millions of clients to breathe in the above ratio. He explicity states in his book “Unlimited Power” that oxygenating your body is the single most important key to good health.

    Are these “scientists” cited in this blog going to suggest that practioners of yoga and Tony Robbins are somehow harming themselves and their students by BREATHING TOO DEEPLY? I think that it is pretty clear that this is not the case. I suggest to all that are reading this that it is far more likely that manufacturers of medical oxygen are posting “articles” like this on the internet to dissuade people from using oxygen bars because they are afraid that it will hurt their profits. It is sort of like horse breeders in the early 1900s telling everyone how dangerous cars were. They, too, thought that they were going to be driven out of business. In actuality, there are now three times as many horses in the United States as there were at the turn of the century…go figure.

    When you are thinking about the effects of oxygen intake, consider the following:

    Your body requires three things for proper cell function; oxygen, water and nutrients.

    You can go for about four minutes without breathing oxygen until permanent brain damage occurs and death becomes imminent.

    You can go for about three days without drinking water (depending on the environment you are in) before death is imminent.

    You can go for about 14 days without food (depending upon environment and your body mass) before you run the risk of starving to death.

    Now, considering this, what is the most critical component of life and good health? Just as Tony Robbins states, oxygenating your body is the number one key to good health…and the more the better.

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