Overlooked and underutilized, Oxygen is the most important nutrient!
We can live for weeks, even months without food, days without water yet only minutes without oxygen. While we all know this fact, the use and importance of oxygen as a nutrient seems to have slipped our consciousness. Maybe because we breath about 23,000x per day we simply take this notion for granted. Well if you are reading this article It is very likely I know a few things about you. I know that health optimization and biohacking must be one of your priorities. I know that you are at least as interested in pushing your bodies level of performance as you are in pushing the boundaries of longevity and I believe if this assumption is correct, you will be amazed at what role oxygen plays in these processes.
Health and adaptation
We have all heard of the concept: Survival of the fittest. When people first hear this concept, many associate fittest with strongest. Fight or flight…. He who can get away fastest or fight the hardest wins. Well it is not that simple. What was actually meant by the term fittest was most able to adapt. The person who can adapt to an ever-changing environment around them is most likely to survive. This means that our health, our performance and ultimately our quality of life is directly related to our ability to teach our body how to adapt to our world. The term hormesis has been used in our circles to describe this phenomenon. Continuous exposure to some degree of stress, enough to create a healing response from the body, ultimately leading us toward improved recovery ad performance but not so much to break us down and hinder those abilities. Almost all our health optimization strategies are based on this premise.
Deficiency and Toxicity
While this is an absolute oversimplification of how our bodies work, I think it helps to understand that the root of virtually all disease and dysfunction can be reduced to toxicity and deficiency. Even more so, that any degree of toxicity or deficiency will limit our ability to adapt. This does not only include foods and vitamins. We can be toxic and deficient in our chemistry ( the things we put in our body i.e. food, vitamins, alcohol, medications etc), but we can also be toxic and deficient with regard to our physical bodies ( what we do with our bodies i.e. exercise, postures, positions, etc) and emotionally as well (what we think about i.e. jealousy, fear, anger etc.) A goal of purity and sufficiency in what we put in our bodies, what we do to our bodies and even in our daily thoughts will all lead to improved health. We are designed to have optimal health and performance in our life. If we are expressing anything less than optimal health we are either toxic (we have too much of something our body needs to get rid of) or we are deficient (we are missing something our body requires to perform optimally) If we view each of our health journeys through this lens, deviations from optimal health become very obvious and a plan we each need to work toward peak performance starts to lay itself out. As you begin to understand the role oxygen plays in our body, we can begin to appreciate its role in helping our body detoxify as well as the massive consequences that arise when we become even mildly let alone moderately oxygen deficient.
Oxygen as a nutrient
A nutrient is: a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life. Oxygen absolutely falls into that category! Like all nutrients in our body there are 3 ranges of dosage. The RDA or the minimum amount required before we express obvious disease or dysfunction of deficiency. The optimal range, or the amount required to make sure we are sufficient enough in that ingredient to ensure we have enough for all the complex interactions our body goes through in a given day. Lastly the megadose, Even when we are optimally sufficient there may be period in our life where a much higher dose is recommended or required for helping our body transition though a health challenge. Oxygen can be viewed through this lens. An oxygen deficiency is called hypoxia. Hypoxia can be systemic due to some cardiovascular or respiratory (heart, circulatory or lung) condition where we cannot efficiently absorb or deliver oxygen to our cells. Hypoxia can also be local. Meaning we absorb oxygen well, we can pump and circulate oxygen throughout our entire body but there is a problem delivering oxygen to a certain area, tissue type or organ. This is more common than many people realize. Perhaps a recent or even old injury where the microcirculation (capillary beds) were damaged, maybe an area of chronic inflammation, or a location of scar tissue and fibrosis not allowing normal circulation and therefore proper oxygenation of tissue. In some of these cases the tissue can be hypoxic because very little is getting through. The tissue is alive but functioning poorly. (common in TBI/Concussion as an example) Perhaps some oxygen is getting through enough to function under minimal daily routines but as soon as we increase demand (intense focus and concentration or increased physical demand) we cannot efficient increase oxygen supply and therefore our performance suffers. Like getting the RDA of oxygen but not really getting the optimal range. In other cases we can consistently supply the body with optimal ranges of oxygen and yet we still want to expose ourselves to mega doses periodically. Maybe this is to overcome an injury, or trauma. Maybe this is to help alleviate pain or chronic inflammation from a condition we have and sometimes this is to simply improve our performance capacity and quality of life. It turns out oxygen is a rate limiting step to many of our cells ability to make energy. As we step up our oxygen exposure, we are able to step up our mental and physical capacities for performing tasks. This may all sound great in theory. Increase your oxygen absorption = increase capacity to heal, detoxify, produce energy and perform however there is one major challenge. Based on our physiology and ability to carry oxygen, it is not an easy task to increase oxygen absorption. Generally speaking, without any cardiovascular or respiratory condition, we are all carrying almost all the oxygen we are capable of carrying. Our “optimal” dose of oxygen is 97-100% red blood cell oxygen saturation. Under normal conditions we rely on our red blood cells to carry oxygen to our tissues and cells and as we stand here right now they are almost already completely saturated with oxygen only able to carry 1-3% more at any time. So if we had a mask and a tank of oxygen we can increase our absorption by only a few percent and that is really not enough to make a difference in our health the way we would all want to.
There are many tools and techniques which can help us become more oxygen efficient. We can breathe on an oxygen tank for a while, this will help some. We can certainly learn how to breathe more effectively and deeply. We can use breathing techniques like Wim Hof and holotrophic breathing as examples and absolutely improve our tissue’s oxygenation on the cellular level. We can also use tools like EWOT which help to shift the supply and demand equation within our body helping to drive increased oxygen into our tissues. These are all great strategies however, by far, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is the most powerful way to deliver oxygen and change our physiology with regard to oxygenation of our tissues and cells. Pressure and Oxygen The reason we absorb any oxygen at all is due to pressure. Our atmosphere exerts a pressure on our body. We don’t feel it, but at sea level there is a constant 14.7 psi exerted on our bodies all the time. This pressure creates a gradient allowing oxygen to flow from high concentration (our atmosphere) to lower concentration (our lungs). At sea level we expect this pressure to be sufficient enough to oxygenate all of our tissues. At altitude, say 5000 ft above sea level, the pressure of our atmosphere is less and this allows less oxygen absorption than at sea level. Our body “feels” this difference and the result is an increase in red blood cell production. If we have more red blood cells, we can improve our efficiency of carrying oxygen required due to the decrease in pressure. I use the word “Feel” because as it turns out, we have oxygen sensors in our body that can not only detect changes in oxygen concentration but also changes oxygen pressure. There is 21% oxygen in our air no matter what the altitude we are at. The pressure of the atmosphere is what changes. At sea level, the pressure of air is 760mmHg and our oxygen pressure is 159 mmHg. At 8000 ft above sea level the pressure of air is 564 mmHg and the pressure of oxygen is 118 mmHg. That difference in pressure is what makes the air “thinner” at altitude. It is the same but opposite phenomenon below sea level. As we descend below sea level the pressure increases and therefore the ability to absorb air and oxygen also increases. The deeper you go, the more pressure, the more we can absorb. In a hyperbaric environment, we can control the amount of pressure we exert on a person and the amount of time they are in this pressurized environment and therefore predictably control the amount of increased oxygen absorption they can take into their cells. Once absorbed this “extra” oxygen can be used for making ATP and energy, increasing the capacity for working tissues to perform or increase the capacity of healing and recovery.
Oxygen in lungs and tissues are in equilibrium
Increased pressure of oxygen in the lungs drive increased diffusion into tissues
That Increased diffusion continues until equilibrium is reached again.
Nobel prize in medicine 2019
Three scientists were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for their discovery of these oxygen sensors. They are called Hypoxic induction factors (HIF’s). These HIF’s are responsible for many of the changes our body goes through as oxygen percentages change as well as oxygen pressures change. It is well documented at this point that over 8100 different epigenetic factors are tied to and influenced by these changing pressures and changing oxygen levels. The moral of the story here is that if we really want to influence our body to improve healing, recovery, performance and quality of life we not only need to manipulate absolute oxygen levels, we need to also manipulate pressures as well, which is where hyperbaric oxygen really fits in. 10 well established benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen
1. Increased oxygen perfusion- (Immediate increase in free floating oxygen available for tissue use)
2. Neovascularization- Angiogenesis (new blood vessel growth)
3. Increased white blood cell function (improved neutrophil and macrophage activity)
4. Nerve healing factors (increases in VegF, BDNF, HIF1)
5. Wound healing Increased capacity for healing (PDGF, VegF, collagen production circulatory
6. Stem cell release (up to 8-fold increase in mesenchymal and CNS stem cells)
7. Vasoconstriction (decrease edema and swelling from damaged tissues)
8. Mitochondrial healing (increase in size, shape and number of mitochondria)
9. Anti-inflammatory (reduction of inflammatory cytokines, increase in anti-inflammatory
10. Anti-microbial/microbiome balancing (reduction in anaerobic pathogens and increase in aerobic
How many sessions do I need to do? Can I use a soft chamber or do I need a hard chamber? What is the best protocol for health optimization? I get questions like this all the time and there is unfortunately no single or simple answer to any of them. We have 3 variable we can manipulate, oxygen levels we are exposed to, pressure levels we are exposed to and minutes we are under pressure. We can use all three of these variables to create protocols. In some cases where higher pressure would have been great to have, we use higher oxygen levels and more sessions to make up for the loss in pressure. Time is our biggest input here. While there are certain conditions (gangrene, open wounds, osteomyelitis, radiation burns) that require absolute high pressure and high oxygen levels most of us are not using these chamber for those issues. Therefore we can use mild pressures and lower oxygen levels and use longer sessions and more frequent sessions to get the results we are all looking for, especially if we use a soft chamber in our home. Typically we offer people who buy home chambers a consultation to decide what their issues are, what their goals are and therefore what protocol they should use in order to get the most out of their equipment. It is important to us that people who choose this equipment learn how to use it properly, are safe and of course effective in implanting strategies that get them the results they need!
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