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An Ounce of Prevention | The power of oxygen

Published:Wednesday | October 19, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Humans are oxygen dependent. We get this nutrient from the air we breathe which ideally contains about 21 per cent oxygen. A person can survive for weeks without food, days without water, but will die within a few minutes without oxygen. Yet this is the one nutrient that most people don't think of as being associated with many health problems. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One problem is that oxygen concentration of the air in major cities and industrial areas has been found to be significantly below normal. That results in a decreased oxygen intake for each breath taken. Cigarette smoking or too much time spent indoors in poorly ventilated areas further lower our oxygen intake.

In addition to that, most people have developed poor breathing habits that further restricts oxygen uptake. This chronic oxygen deficiency has a negative impact on our health and our overall performance. Of course, many illnesses like circulatory and lung diseases will lower our oxygen levels. In fact, oxygen deprivation can be associated with all kinds of chronic diseases, including cancer.




Cancer is the number two killer in the world today. Cancer cells are radically different to normal cells. A German, Dr Otto Warburg, won the Nobel Prize in 1931 for his research that proved that cancer cells do not use oxygen to grow and survive.

They create energy to live and multiply in another way. Normal cells love and need oxygen but cancer cells do not - they prefer sugar (glucose). Oxygen provides very little fuel for cancer cells, only two energy molecules compared with 36 energy units from sugar. Optimal oxygenation of your body is therefore a smart and safe method to help prevent and fight cancer.


Heart attacks and Strokes


These cardiovascular diseases are also among the major modern killers. They result from a diminished oxygen carrying blood supply to the heart or brain. Though doctors are now debating the pros and cons of using oxygen after these events, optimal oxygen before these disasters may help prevent them.


Low energy


Inside the cells of your body, there are special structures designed to produce the energy needed for the cells to live, thrive and do their work. These structures are called mitochondria and they require oxygen for energy production. Low energy levels, fatigue, difficulty in concentration and poor mental focus are common features of low oxygen levels or hypoxia.




Many pathogenic germs are anaerobic, that is, they do not thrive in an environment high in oxygen. Increased oxygenation is a powerful aid in fighting infections of many kinds. On the other hand, low oxygen levels encourage infection.

There are several ways to optimise our oxygen levels both in health and disease.


Breathing exercises


Most of us use only a small part of the capacity of our lungs. We usually breathe unconsciously and take short shallow breaths. We can learn to breathe consciously, taking longer, slower deeper breaths. This immediately increases oxygen intake while lowering levels of another less desirable gas, carbon dioxide. In addition, deep breathing provides many, many other benefits, and the commonest advice I have given to my patients over the years in many different situation is simply, 'take a deep breath'. All the major eastern philosophies (e.g. yoga) teach specific breathing techniques for their physical, mental and spiritual benefits.


Breathing Oxygen


We can also enrich the air we breathe with oxygen. Patients with a variety of illnesses benefit from breathing oxygen through a face mask or nasal tube. Professional sportsmen and women use oxygen during games to improve their recovery and performance. The hotels in Las Vegas pipe extra oxygen into the gaming rooms to keep patrons energised and 'oxygen bars' are enjoying popularity in the US.

Doctors have demonstrated impressive benefits from a technique called 'exercising with oxygen'. Individuals breathe oxygen while riding a stationary bike or running on a treadmill. Cardiovascular and immune function and performance levels soar. Oxygen delivery systems for home use are now readily available.


Hydrogen peroxide


Another way to enhance oxygenation of our tissues is by use of hydrogen peroxide. This is a well-known liquid antiseptic that readily breaks down into water and oxygen. Soaking in a warm water bath with hydrogen peroxide added is a simple way to oxygenate your body.

Tiny quantities of pharmaceutical grade hydrogen peroxide can also be added to your drinking water as another oxygenation technique. Holistic doctors sometimes even administer hydrogen peroxide intravenously.




A particularly powerful oxygenating agent is ozone. Ozone chemical formula is O3 compared to that of oxygen O2. Pure medical ozone can be administered in many ways to hyper oxygenate tissues of the body. This includes ozonated water baths, intravenous, rectal, vaginal administration or by drinking ozonated water, applying ozonated olive oil to the skin or bagging infected limbs. Cuban doctors use ozone extensively to treat a variety of health problems.


Hyperbaric oxygen


At the upper end of the scale of oxygen therapies is the use of oxygen delivered at above atmospheric pressure in special chambers. This allows for an even more powerful use of oxygen therapy. Well known for its use to treat deep-sea divers with decompression sickness, it also has many powerful medical applications and all the major hospitals in Cuba have hyperbaric oxygen departments.

- You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Visit for details on his books and articles.