Oxygen Intake and Red Blood Cell Efficiency

Despite a recent fad for inhaling 100% oxygen as a way to increase energy, our bodies can only use as much oxygen as our red blood cells can transport.


| March/April 1990



Woman with Oxygen Mask

Inhaling pure oxygen is now being marketed as an energy booster—and is even sold by flavor in some Japanese bars—but the science behind this trend is questionable.


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/LAURENT HAMELS

I am not generally disposed toward rankings. It has always struck me that an approach that categorizes things in terms of Biggests and Bests is narrow-minded. If one ignores the So-Sos, and the More or Lesses, most of life goes down the drain. He who doesn't take the chaff with the wheat, doesn't get much fiber in his diet.

Nonetheless, I will be the first to admit that, in the general scheme of things, there is definitely some stuff which, if not Absolutely Tops, is at least Pretty Damn Useful, so that you would hate to be left on a desert island without it. Stuff like peanut butter and the Sunday New York Times. And oxygen.

Oxygen is the spark that drives the body's engine. The catalyst without which our ingested fuel would just lie fallow and rot, while our muscles, brain, and heart would grind slowly to a halt. There's no doubt about it. Without oxygen, it's just no go. Which is probably why Nature decided to put it in the air, where it would be readily accessible, and to make its entrance to the body via the mouth, which is usually open. She was pretty careful to insure that we would always have enough of good old O to go around.

Enough, but not too much. Air is only 21% oxygen. The rest is nitrogen, a completely useless gas. In fact, air is so low in oxygen that if oxygen were a cheese, air would be a spread; if it were meat, air couldn't even qualify as a hot dog. Air is not a high-quality product.

Which is where we, the people, come in. Of all those traits that make the sapiens in Homo, the most important has to be our ability to improve upon that which Nature hath wrought. While the lesser animals have been content to wallow around for millennia in the same old bed, we, in a paltry few thousand years, have given new meaning to the word earth. Where once there was dirt, now there is asphalt. Where once grew grass, now arises Astroturf. And where once were only lakes, now there are hot tubs.

It is no surprise that, having renovated soil and water, we would turn our attention to air. It is only surprising that it took us so long. When you consider how easy oxygen is to get and store, it seems a little odd that by now every office doesn't have an oxygen cooler, and every home, a stand of bottled oxygen.





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