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Does oxygen therapy work?

Monday, October 16, 2006
There's nothing like breathing in some fresh air to clear the mind but just how clean does that air have to be?

Reporter Leila McKinnon has travelled to Miami to check out one of the latest fads, oxygen bars, to find out if breathing in pure oxygen is good for our health.

Some people believe supplementing your oxygen supply will boost your health — a bit like taking vitamins. That's why oxygen bars have become increasingly popular.

Stephen Katowitz runs a company that delivers portable oxygen to bars such as this one in Fort Lauderdale.

"Benefits are increased concentration, a stronger immune system, your metabolism will increase, it eliminates headaches, it eliminates hangovers," says Stephen.

They're bold claims and, at a dollar a minute, you'd expect benefits for your buck.

"This is our Aroma O2 oxygen generator," explains Stephen of the equipment. "It takes the ambient air and filters out all the impurities, it comes out through the headset and we put aromatherapy in as well and that's how the machine works."

"How will it make me feel?" asks Leila.

"It will give you a boost of energy, it will revive you and it'll make you feel great," says Stephen.

The recycled gas Leila is going to try is 35 percent oxygen, compared to about 20 percent in normal air.

Other customers who are having oxygen at the same time as Leila say that they're feeling more energy. Leila has to admit that she doesn't feel that different.

Leila is going to try another way of getting an oxygen fix; liquid oxygen. She's going to add this to her water over a few weeks to see if it makes her feel any healthier.

Leila also goes to a clinic in Florida to try a hyperbaric chamber. It's the ultimate oxygen hit, with 100 percent pure oxygen at three times the normal atmospheric pressure.

Some sportspeople use these chambers to recover faster from injury.

Hyperbaric chambers are very effective for people with lung and circulation disorders because they increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. But for someone as healthy as Leila, do they provide any benefit?

"A perfectly healthy person doing this is like taking an aspirin when you don't have a headache," says Lance T Burk, the hyperbaric technician. "It's not going to do anything for someone who doesn't have a lack or a damaged area that oxygen will help heal."

According to Dr Norman Edelman at the American Lung Association, the same applies to oxygen bars and drops.

"You have to remember, if you're normal and sitting at sea level your blood is almost fully saturated with oxygen, it can't take up anymore," he says.

If you're a healthy person, extra oxygen is useless to you because your body doesn't need it and won't use it.

So if they don't work, why have oxygen bars become so popular?

"If you tell somebody they're going to feel good, 30 or 40 percent of them do feel good, whatever you do," says Dr Edelman.

What does Stephen in the oxygen bar think of the idea that it's all in the mind?

"The oxygen in our air has pollutants, allergens and all types of impurities in it," he says. "Our aroma O2 oxygen generator puts out pure oxygen but also with a pleasant aromatherapy session which gives you a real boost."

Leila has also decided that after drinking the liquid oxygen for a few weeks, she feels no different at all. If you are a fan of recreational oxygen, though, 20 minutes in an oxygen bar is unlikely to do you any harm at all.

Fast facts

Aristocrats call themselves blue blooded to show they're better than the rest of us. Blue blood does, in fact, exist, because blood is pumped from the heart to the lungs where it picks up oxygen and turns red. After delivering it to the body's cells, the now deoxygenated blood is pumped back to the heart and at this point, it appears blue or purple. Bad news for the toffs — yes, their blood is sometimes blue, but so is everyone else's.

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