Opinion » Antidote

700% More Hot Air


What in the world is oxygenated water? I saw it in the grocery store next to the sports drinks. Can I keep my goldfish in it?

—Call me Gil

I'll do the jokes here, capiche? Pretending for the moment that your question is serious, I'm not certain what would happen if you put a fish in a bottle of oxygenated water. The pricey drink supposedly has many times the amount of dissolved oxygen (O2) compared to water coming out of the tap, so I'm imagining a fish might start hyperventilating or something. Great. Now I can't seem to stop picturing Dory the fish making Nemo's dad breathe in and out of a tiny, animated paper sack.

As it turns out, unless you also have gills, you're not likely to benefit from oxygenated water. I know what you're thinking: "But breathing is so last season, everybody drinks their oxygen now." Maybe so, but regular water naturally contains about 7 milligrams of oxygen. And even though many companies are indeed capable of increasing that amount by seven or eight times, that volume still represents about the same amount of oxygen contained in a single breath. It is also safe to say that a healthy portion of that pricey pumped-in O2 returns to the air from which it came the moment you twist the bottle's top.

So, what is the rationale behind selling this product? Generally it comes down to the knowledge that athletes will try nearly anything to gain a competitive edge. Exploiting that reality and the athletes themselves, these manufacturers always include promises to improve athletic performance, alertness, stamina and recovery time. A good example of capitalizing on that marketing niche was SerVenRich. This short-lived brand of O2 water was developed by Richard Williams, father of tennis phenoms Serena and Venus Williams. Like the oxygen pumped in to his product, the entire company quickly vaporized, never to be heard from again.

By now you've come to expect a story of a governmental agency crackdown; I won't disappoint you. The therapeutic oxygen trade's first big name was Vitamin O, a product that was advertised with promises of aiding heart disease, cancers and lung disorders. Full-page ads appeared in national newspapers touting the supplement's alleged benefits. Those benefits, however, were based on science about as weighty as Nicole Ritchie on a teeter-totter. So, the FDA regulatory unit swung into action, blocking further misleading advertising and requiring nearly $400,000 in restitution. No worries though; a quickly renamed company is back in business again selling Vitamin O along with other questionable supplements and a magic blender that can create hexagonal water (obvious future grist for my mill).

The oft-told fallacy that liquid containing dissolved O2 can be beneficial for the body doesn't take into account that there is no physiological method for transferring oxygen from the digestive tract into the blood stream--no biological need exists for that process. Our respiratory system already does an excellent job, saturating the blood hemoglobin (oxygen's transport molecule) to nearly 100 percent during exercise. If it were possible, or even efficient, for the gut to provide O2 to the blood, hemoglobin still could not carry more than it already does. It would be like trying to jam 13 eggs into a standard carton--a bad idea unless you're willing to be the butt of a yolk.

I base my snarkiness on the surprising amount of research done on oxygenated water--research that was likely enabled by the gobs of money available for exploration into athletic performance (versus indulgent subjects like, say, actual human disease). In at least three peer-reviewed studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the International Journal of Sports Medicine, as well as additional findings from the Human Performance Lab at the University of Wisconsin, no measurable effect on performance was found in athletes drinking oxygenated water. Further, two different papers noted a mild temporary increase in cell-damaging oxygen free radicals. This doesn't mean O2 water is necessarily harmful, though it does question the wisdom of chemically manipulating our most basic fluid.

Perhaps only the stars of Finding Nemo might benefit from additional oxygen in their water, but it is unlikely the children watching that movie ever will. That info will never stop those same kids from aggravating their parents by creating their own oxygenated water at the dinner table. In fact, if you still insist on drinking the stuff, don't pay the high retail price. Just do as the kids do: stick a straw in your glass and blow.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send Evian and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).