Oxygen bars may be harmful to your 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.

35 thoughts on “Oxygen bars may be harmful to your health

  1. I had to jump in to this…Scientific blog.
    Three hours? How about less than five minutes? Excess in anything is not good, however most…human beings are light breathers. Not allowing enough GOD given oxygen into their system to make it function at optional levels. I say this… Let intelligent people make their own decisions, and not allow the agenda based academics “RULE THEIR LIVES”.
    Unfortunately, many intelligent people have been buying into this pharmaceutical grade dogma.

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  3. 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.

  4. 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. 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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]

  10. 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.

    • “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?

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