One of my early forays into the world of pseudoscience was an investigation of “Vitamin O” (the O stands for oxygen). The story is hilarious; please click and read; I guarantee you won’t be able to read it without at least a chuckle. Vitamin O is still for sale; it’s even available on Amazon.com. You can read the manufacturer’s ridiculous rationalizations about the FTC’s and FDA’s regulatory actions against them and their bogus “research” here. In my article, I mentioned oxygen bars, which were popular at the time. I was under the impression that they had gone out of fashion since then. Alas, no.
Dr. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch e-mailed me to suggest that I might want to write about the O2 Planet website. It calls itself “the largest oxygen bar and oxygen spa source on the planet.” I can’t decide whether to thank Dr. Barrett for steering me to a source of entertainment and making me laugh or curse him for making me suffer through a disgusting collection of pseudoscientific rubbish. Some of the company’s claims are listed on the graphic above.
Their website says,
Oxygen is a miracle, an anti aging miracle! Oxygen therapy can help to jump start the body’s antioxidant defenses and ability to fight free radicals, boost metabolism, and counteract the hypoxia (low oxygen level) that leads to slower cell activity and oxidative stress. Research has shown that oxygen therapy can help to improve the efficiency of hemoglobin in transporting oxygen around the body, improve blood flow by helping to keep cell membranes flexible, and detoxify and fight infection by destroying bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that thrive in low-oxygen environments and don’t have the antioxidant resources to fight back. Hyperbaric oxygen can treat carbon monoxide poisoning-by displacing the lethal gas with oxygen, it may also be beneficial to people who have sustained burns, crush injuries and radiation damage as it stimulates the regrowth of damaged tissues. There is some evidence to mean that hyperbaric oxygen may also help to kill cancer cells and reduce toxic symptoms associated with chemotherapy, relieve fatigue and numbness associated with AIDS, increase resistance to opportunistic infections in people with AIDS, reduce post-ischemic stroke damage, and relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. However, none of these benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been clinically proven.
One wonders why they even mention hyperbaric oxygen, since it has nothing whatsoever to do with their normobaric products.
Some of their other questionable claims:
- We lose our vision as we get older because of lack of oxygen
- Oxygen both energizes and relaxes, users experience euphoria
- Oxygen prevents wrinkles and makes you look younger
- Oxygen therapy will slow aging, restore sex drive, make you lose weight, restore your energy, and make you happier
- Oxygen reduces the risk of heart attacks
- It lessens chronic fatigue syndrome and improves sleep patterns
- Breathing oxygen before a test improves test scores
- The skin needs detoxing; it is our third kidney.
- Our ancestors were pure-air breathing, clean-water drinking individuals who lived in perfect biochemical harmony with their earth; the modern human body is a toxic bucket, contaminated with chemicals (This claim cites “Source: Dr. Mercola.” It’s hard to restrain myself from profanity here, but I’ll take a few deep breaths and simply say I don’t consider Mercola a credible source.)
They sell oxygen bars and kiosks, aromatherapy headsets, oxygen vending machines operated by tokens (perfect for gyms, vap shops, bars), air purifiers, an oxygen water maker, an oxygenated mineral water maker, an oxygen laser wand for facial rejuvenation therapy, infrared spas with O3 (an extra oxygen molecule [sic] to zap pollutants), and multiuser units. There is even a versatile steam spa that can be used for aromatherapy with essential oils, herbal treatment, full spectrum light therapy, and acupoint massage (I’m surprised they didn’t mention homeopathy). And then there is my favorite: an oxygen footbath that uses “negative and positive ions to pull the toxins out through the feet and into the basin.” It removes waste products such as diacetic, lactic, pyruvic, uric, carbonic, acetic, butyric, and hepatic acids. It infuses your body with oxygen. It evacuates heavy metals and blood clotting cellular debris. Only $1,400 for a course of 14 treatments!
Interestingly, their obligatory FDA disclaimer includes the statement that their products are for recreational use only. You can become a distributor and get free marketing material for your customers.
Of course they don’t supply any scientific evidence; there isn’t any. Time for a reality check. Normal oxygen saturation is 97-99%. Adverse effects of low oxygen levels are usually not seen until the saturation drops below 80%. We know that inhaling 100% oxygen is harmful. The flow rate of O2 Planet’s devices is 3 ½ liters per minute; a simple oxygen facemask used in hospitals supplies 5-8 liters per minute with an oxygen concentration of between 28 and 40%. It’s highly unlikely that inhaling oxygen from O2 Planet’s devices would measurably raise the amount of oxygen in the blood, and it’s even less likely that a small increment in oxygen would have any significant effect on health.
So no evidence, and no plausible rationale, but lots of testimonials. Some of those testimonials are quite amusing:
- “I received the unit and it looks awesome. Thank you.” (Quite an endorsement! It looks pretty; who cares whether it does anything?)
- “The Aroma O2 is working awesome!! I have a question, though, the oil drops, was I suppose to [sic] put it in the headset itself, or inside the little blue water filter?” (It works great, even though I don’t know how to work it.)
- “Everything is going great the anti-aging center is growing steadily… we had 10 new patients for this month… we are starting our marketing campaign this month so we expect to get quite busy!” (This one was from a “Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist.” Who cares whether it works, as long as it generates income?)
While looking for information on that company, I ran across a couple of other oxygen websites that are equally reprehensible.
Oxygen Elements Max
This website tells us that “our bodies were also intended to get oxygen from water.” (True only of our ancestors during the fish stage of our evolutionary history. We no longer have gills, unless you count the vestigial remnants that appear transiently during embryological development.) They admit that their product actually contains very little oxygen. But that doesn’t matter, because it:
creates oxygen at the cellular level in your body by using the oxygen components that are already there. To put it simply, Oxygen Elements Max (formerly Hydroxygen Plus) actually splits the water molecule (H2O – two parts Hydrogen and one part Oxygen) and starts a chain reaction that releases the Oxygen as the body demands it. This reaction continues for up to 72 hours, but peaks in your body at about 6-12 hours. Thus, your body has a ready supply of oxygen stored up in its water and is released as needed.
The product also contains:
- 19 amino acids
- digestive & metabolic enzymes
- 78 ionic trace minerals
- and “it continuously provides your cells with Hydrogen & Oxygen”
Since the dosage is in drops, and a single bottle lasts a month, for all these components to be packed in, they can only be present in homeopathic quantities.
Ed McCabe, “best selling oxygen author and pioneer” brags about being raided by the FDA for selling his oxygen supplement. He claims that an increase in someone’s oxygen saturation can be measured 30 minutes after taking the drops. I find that hard to believe. I also find it hard to believe some of his other astounding claims:
- “When the food you eat doesn’t contain the proper digestive enzymes, your body dips into your storehouse of metabolic enzymes to synthesize the needed enzyme. This results in you using up your storehouse of metabolic enzymes faster that you should.” (Most ingested enzymes are rapidly degraded by the digestive process and disassembled into their basic building blocks; they don’t act as enzymes in the body.)
- On average, doctors only live 80% as long as the general population.” (Wrong! They actually live 3 years longer. )
- “Many scientists believe that a periodic lack of oxygen must be held responsible for the formation of cancer cells, thus being one of the causes of cancer.” (Which scientists are those? Do they have any evidence, or do they just “believe”? What about the majority of scientists who disagree?)
- “A cell denied the oxygen necessary for it to breathe mutates into an anaerobic plant type (Cancerous) cell. “ (Animal cells turning into plant cells? Yeah, sure!)
- “The ancient atmosphere was 38-50% Oxygen (“Science“ Journal). That means today we have only HALF the Oxygen we were designed to run on…According to experts the oxygen levels of our atmosphere have dropped by as much as 50% over the past 500 years.” (Not according to this paper. It says “It is quite possible that the level of atmospheric oxygen has varied (roughly between 15 and 30% O2) over the past 550 million years.“)
- “Most diseases can’t live in Oxygen, especially high levels of active oxygen! So, if we safely and properly re-supply our bodies with the missing oxygen, what happens to the offending toxins and microbes, the two causes of all disease, and aging?“ (This may be a step above the “one true cause of all disease” theories but not by much. How monumentally silly! Do they really believe that a person protected from any contact with toxins and microbes would never get sick and would never age?)
- “the true cause of allergy is lowered oxidation process within the body.” (Sez who?)
- “Hydrogen is associated with the properties of solidification, integration, and concentration. It brings together a matrix of energies, evolving these energies into solid forms. If the hydrogen properties are allowed to continue on unchecked, the form gets denser and denser. Finally, extreme hardness settles in. These properties are the ones that bring the form of our bodies into existence, out of the DNA. Hydrogen builds cells, and if left unmodulated, makes them hard and brittle. These effects are balanced by the action of the oxygen.” (If any of that makes sense to you, you might want to get your medication adjusted.)
Testimonials for Oxygen Elements Max abound, for a long list of practically every human ailment. Order options include a bottle with a 30 day supply for $31.95, membership to save money, and a Business Membership option which is a typical multilevel marketing (MLM) opportunity. There is a money back guarantee, of course, providing you return the unused portion.
Richardson’s Miracle Cure
Kevin Richardson offers a downloadable book The Miracle Cure: in which he “Reveals The Simple And Natural Nutrient Known To Relieve Virtually All Ailments, Diseases, And Illnesses With No Side Effects.” Among other things, his book promises to reveal a particular golden honey that is rich in oxygen water and will even provide recipes for an oxygen diet.
He claims that oxygen is the cure for 95% of all the diseases that you are otherwise doomed to suffer or die from. He lists some of them here.
It’s hardly surprising that his list includes the ever-popular autism and Lyme disease, but it did surprise me that it included insect bites and “Food Allergies Warts,” whatever that is. He says Dr. Robert Atkins was jailed for curing cancer with oxygen. He says there are no side effects other than “the rare ‘healing crisis’ when your body expels harmful, toxic and even deadly poisons from your body.”
He cites Otto Warburg; his simplistic misinterpretation of the Warburg hypothesis is that Warburg “proved” that lack of oxygen was the cause of cancer and that supplying your cells with it not only kills cancer cells and tumors, but blocks future cancer cells from forming. Warburg did have an intriguing hypothesis about cancer metabolism, but he “proved” no such thing.
There are a lot of myths about the health benefits of supplemental oxygen, and they keep popping up like whack-a-moles no matter how often science beats them down. I found all of this profoundly depressing. Apparently the American public is so ignorant of science that unscrupulous entrepreneurs can easily make money by snowing the gullible with the most egregious pseudoscientific nonsense. There are legitimate uses for supplemental oxygen and hyperbaric oxygen within scientific medicine. The kinds of oxygen therapies I have covered here are not scientific and are not medicine; they are simply disreputable moneymaking enterprises.
This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog.