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Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapies alter the body's chemistry to help overcome disease, promote repair, and improve overall function. These therapies have been found to be effective in treating a wise variety of conditions, including infections (viral, fungal, parasitic, bacterial), circulatory problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, allergies, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.


The little nasal prongs and masks that provide patients with extra oxygen are a common sight in hospitals. Use of supplemental oxygen is also common among people with chronic lung diseases such as emphysema. But the more exotic forms of oxygen therapy discussed here seek to do far more than simply boost the body's oxygen supply. Their goal is to cure diseases ranging from gangrene to AIDS. Only one of them has any proven value. Known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it is the primary mode of treatment for gas embolisms (dangerous air bubbles in the bloodstream), the 'bends' (a type of gas embolism that occurs when a deep-sea diver surfaces too quickly), carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation. It is also generally accepted as supplementary treatment for burns, gangrene, radiation injuries, chronic bone infections, compromised skin grafts, non-healing wounds, destructive soft tissue infections, exceptional blood loss, and crush injuries. Two other forms of oxygen therapy-employing ozone and oxygen peroxide, respectively-have been touted as cures for cancer, a variety of infections, and many other problems. To date, there is no scientific evidence that they work.

Procedure of Treatment

Hyperbaric Oxygen: 'Hyper' means increased; 'baric' means pressure. During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, patients inhale 100 per cent oxygen (versus 21 percent in the air we breathe) under pressures of up to two atmospheres (pressure at sea level is describes as 'one atmosphere'). The most common environment for the treatment is a specially designed, air-tight chamber used for one person only. In a multiplace chamber-a room or a series of rooms-a group of people may receive treatment simultaneously. In a single-place chamber, the patient lies down; in multiplace chamber, the patients may sit. Treatment occurs in three phases: compression, when pure oxygen is released into the chamber; treatment, when pressure is slowly increased to the prescribed level; decompression, when pressure is slowly returned to the normal. Patients are usually awake during the procedure. Patients who are uncomfortable in close, cramped spaces may find the single-place chamber anxiety-provoking. In such cases, a mild sedative may be given before treatment.

Treatment Time and Frequency: The length and frequency of treatments depend on the patient's illness. For example, the standard recommendation for smoke inhalation is five 90 minute treatments followed by a review by a physician outside the treatment team to determine whether additional sessions are needed. Treatments for soft tissue injuries or tissue damaged by radiation therapy may require two hours in the chamber once a day for several weeks. Some chronic conditions may require therapy sessions on a long-term basis.

Ozone Therapy: Ozone (O3) is a molecule of oxygen (O2) with an extra atom attached. Proponents of ozone therapy claim that the extra atom assures higher oxygen levels in the blood and tissues after normal oxidation begins stripping the atoms away. Ozone in the upper atmosphere absorbs certain forms of radiation, protecting us from its harmful effects. In the lower atmosphere, however, it can irritate the eyes and lungs and aggravate respiratory problems. For therapeutic purposes, it is taken in a variety of ways that avoid inhalation. Among the more common are: by ingesting it in water instilled with the gas by applying a mixture of olive oil and ozone directly to the skin by a process in which blood is withdrawn from the body, mixed with ozone and injected back into a vein (known as major autohemotherapy) or a muscle (known as minor autohemotherapy), by blowing the gas into a body cavity such as the vagina, rectum, or ear drum (known as insufflations), by circulating the gas around a limb that has been wrapped in a bag (known as 'limb-bagging'). The 'ozone machines' offered by various manufacturers will not suffice for this type of therapy. In fact, it should be administered only by an experienced practitioner, since excessive oxidation can be damaging.

Treatment Time and Frequency: The number and length of treatments depend on the practitioner's approach to ozone therapy and the condition for which it is being administered. One treatment plan recommends sessions twice a week for 15 to 30 minutes. Practitioners who use ozone therapy to treat patients with HIV recommend treatments twice daily.

Hydrogen Peroxide Therapy: Most people know hydrogen peroxide as the liquid you buy at the drug store for disinfecting scrapes and cuts. It forms when ozone comes in contact with water: the extra oxygen atom attached to the ozone molecule breaks off and combines with a water molecule (H2O) to create hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). It exists in the atmosphere, in raw fruits and vegetables, even in mother's milk. In the human body it serves to activate the immune system, and is produced in areas such as the large intestine to prevent bacteria from growing out of control. Hydrogen peroxide is manufactured in different strengths or grades for different purposes. For example, the liquid at the drug store is 3 per cent hydrogen peroxide. In manufacturing, as solution of 30 per cent hydrogen peroxide is used to wash transistors before assembly. Cheese, eggs, and whey food products are washed in 35 per cent 'food grade' hydrogen peroxide, which is also used to kill microorganisms in good storage products such as aluminum foil. Advocates of 'hydrogen peroxide therapy' usually recommend using food grade, 35 per cent hydrogen peroxide, which can be purchased in some health food stores or by mail. They advise bathing in a diluted solution, gargling with it, spraying it over the body, or soaking injured body parts in it. Some practitioners inject the diluted solution directly into the bloodstream.

Treatment Time and Frequency: Daily or weekly treatment recommendations are common, depending on the condition. For chronic ailments, hydrogen peroxide therapy may be recommended on a long-term basis. Hydrogen peroxide therapy may take as long as three hours to administer.


Hyperbaric oxygen has been used for more than a century to treat the effects of decompression sickness. When a diver surfaces too quickly, bubbles of gas develop in the bloodstream and threaten to disrupt circulation to vital organs. The pressurized atmosphere in the hyperbaric chamber reduces the size of these bubbles so that they can pass through the circulatory system without blocking the arteries. Used as an antidote for carbon monoxide poisoning, hyperbaric oxygen treatment floods the body with oxygen to force the carbon monoxide out. The high pressure within the chamber helps speed oxygen to the tissues where it is needed for vital body functions. Hyperbaric oxygen also has an antibacterial effect. To anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that live without oxygen) exposure to it is poisonous. In addition, since much of the body's immune system is oxygen-dependent, high oxygen levels can give a boost to the cells that fight off infection, particularly deep in the tissues. Hyperbaric oxygen can also compensate for disrupted circulation, helping reduce swelling and promoting tissue recovery following burn or crush injuries. Other applications are still considered experimental. Some plastic surgeons recommend hyperbaric treatment to hasten healing after the operation. Migraine pain, memory loss from dementia or Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis are other conditions for which the therapy is considered potentially beneficial. In some animal studies and limited clinical studies, hyperbaric oxygen has shown promise for treatment of stroke.

Ozone and Hydrogen Peroxide: Oxygen plays a key role in every cellular process. It supports the immune system, destroys toxic substances, fuels metabolism, and promotes new cell growth. Proponents of oxygen therapy (also called hyperoxygenation, superoxygenation, or oxidative therapy) contend that ozone and hydrogen peroxide, with their extra atoms of oxygen, are more efficient than ordinary O2 for fighting disease and repairing injury. They argue that increased oxidation in the body can neutralize toxic substances and kill invading microorganisms; and they advocate oxygen therapy for everything from infections to chronic fatigue. Even a partial list of the conditions they cite includes such circulatory disease as gangrene, dementia, and stroke; such respiratory diseases as asthma, chronic bronchitis and pneumonia, and such infectious diseases as herpes, candidiasis and AIDS. Although the theory underlying use of these compounds may seem reasonable, their effectiveness has never been verified in clinical trials. Ozone, for instance, has been found to inactivate the AIDS virus in laboratory tests, but when given to patients, has failed to work any improvement. Speculations that high oxygen levels cure cancer have also been proven baseless. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found no evidence of any medical benefits from industrial-strength hydrogen peroxide, and has banned any claims to the contrary. Neither the hydrogen peroxide therapy nor the machines (used to make and dispense the gas) is approved or regulated by the FDA. Despite its detractors in the United States, oxygen therapy is widely used abroad. Proponents hint darkly that a 'medical Mafia' has blocked its adoption in this country, favouring more lucrative pharmaceuticals over such cheap, readily available remedies as ozone and hydrogen peroxide. Whatever the truth of the matter, there is still no reliable evidence supporting their use. So for any condition with a clinically proven remedy, they have to be considered an experimental last resort.

Who Should Avoid This Therapy?

Hyperbaric Oxygen: Avoid these treatments if you have a seizure disorder, emphysema, a high fever, or an upper respiratory infection. Do not undergo them if you have a severe fluid build-up in the sinuses, ears or other body cavities. Forego them if you have had surgery for optic neuritis, or have even had a collapsed lung. Avoid them, too, if you are taking doxorubicin (Adriamycin), cisplatin (Platinol), disulfiram (Antabuse), or mafenide acetate (Sulfamylon). Pregnancy was once considered a contraindication for hyperbaric therapy. However, it is now deemed acceptable if a condition will cause long-term damage to the mother or fetus. For example, the treatments are given to pregnant woman with carbon monoxide poisoning, which is toxic to both mother and child.

Ozone and Hydrogen Peroxide
: According to practitioners who use and study ozone therapy, the treatments should never be given to anyone with a hemorrhage-including a menstruating woman-because ozone can increase bleeding. For the same reason, ozone should be avoided by those with thrombocytopenia, a condition characterized by a lack of blood platelets that can lead to easy or profuse bleeding. Ozone therapy should not be given in cases of acute alcohol intoxication. It should also be avoided if you have a transplanted organ or any sort of prosthesis or metal or silicone implant. Do not undertake the treatments if you are pregnant, have recently had a heart attack, or suffer from hyperthyroidism. And avoid them if you are sensitive to ozone. Hydrogen peroxide is officially contraindicated for internal use. Never drink it or take it rectally; it can cause nausea and vomiting and inflame the intestinal tract. If you are allergic or sensitive to this compound, you should avoid external contact as well.


Hyperbaric Oxygen: Seizures, a result of the direct effect of oxygen on the brain, are the most serious side-effect associated with hyperbaric therapy. The risk is estimated at one in 5,000. Every chamber is equipped with a quick-release mechanism. If a seizure occurs, the oxygen will be immediately released and the seizure will subside. Minor side-effects include popping of the ears similar to that experienced in a descending aircraft. Sinus pain earache and headache are other possible side-effects. In fact, pain may occur in any body cavity where air can get in but cannot get out. For example, dental pain may occur if a filling has trapped air beneath it. In rare cases, pressurized oxygen may rupture an eardrum.

Ozone and Hydrogen Peroxide: Ozone is highly irritating to the lungs and can be fatal when inhaled directly. When administered by injection, it can cause phlebitis (vein inflammation), poor circulation, chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting, coughing, flushing, heart irregularities or bubbles in the bloodstream. When given rectally, it can inflame the lower intestinal tract. It is also highly irritating and drying to vaginal membranes. Hydrogen peroxide, when given by injection, may cause faintness, fatigue, headaches and chest pain.