Tired, stressed, run-down. Rinse and repeat. For most of us, this is the soundtrack of our busy, busy lives. But luckily, there are a number of quick pick-me-ups available at our fingertips. From drop-in meditation classes to IV treatments to power naps, you can recharge your batteries in less than half an hour. The latest remedy? Just breathe.
That’s right. Oxygen bars are back. The trend that started back in the mid-nineties has made a comeback, thanks in part to portable canisters and celebrity champions like Gwyneth Paltrow. Wellness junkies had a chance to chill out with some oxygen therapy at The Goop Wellness Summit this past June. Fans say that a few puffs of “pure” oxygen will lead to boosted energy, better sleep, improved concentration and less stress.
Wait, don’t you already breathe in oxygen all day every day? Here’s what you need to know about getting an extra boost with recreational oxygen therapy.
The Oxygen Bubble Effect
The idea is simple: Saddle up to an oxygen bar or buy a canister of portable oxygen and inhale highly concentrated O2 — 90+ percent oxygen. Instead of inhaling the 21 percent of oxygen in the everyday air you breathe in, proponents claim that this heftier dose delivers more oxygen to your muscles, brain and cells. More oxygen means a better range of health benefits that make you feel good.
But the truth is your body is already at full oxygen-carrying capacity. Oxygen enters through the lungs and into the bloodstream, where it hitches a ride on the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. “If you have normal lungs at sea level, your hemoglobin is essentially saturated with oxygen. Taking in more is not going to increase the amount of oxygen carried by the blood by any significant amount,” says Dr. Norman Edelman, Senior Scientific Advisor with the American Lung Association and Professor of Preventative Medicine, Internal Medicine and Physiology and Biophysics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “It’s unlikely there is a physiological effect. You’re not delivering more oxygen to the brain or muscles.”
There’s one case where supplemental oxygen may be helpful, says Edelman. And that’s after vigorous exercise. “After a football player makes a long, hard run, he goes to the sidelines, picks up a mask and breathes in some oxygen,” he says. Edelman explains that during a hard workout, physiological changes occur that stimulates your body to breathe more. “After vigorous exercise, [extra] oxygen may make you feel better,” he says.
While there is some scientific research on the effect of supplemental oxygen on athletic performance, the jury’s still out.
Oxygen Therapy: Is It Just Hot Air?
It may seem like there’s no harm in breathing concentrated air, but Edelman notes that oxygen is an irritant. While most oxygen therapy sessions last 15 to 20 minutes, longer sessions could irritate and inflame the mucus membranes lining your respiratory system.
Plus, recreational oxygen often comes in scented or flavored varieties. Since oxygen bars and portable oxygen isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it’s hard to say what’s exactly pumped out through those nose tubes and canisters. Edelman cautions that those with allergies or asthma may react to artificial or strong scents. And those with lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis should probably steer clear, too.
For those who do claim to feel better after a dose of oxygen? You might be just experiencing a placebo effect. “It may give a sense of euphoria and if it does, I don’t know how it does that,” says Edelman.
A better, cheaper alternative? Step away from your computer, take a walk outside and breathe in the fresh air.