back to the oxygen pseudoscience

Time, I think, to return to that pseudoscience on oxygen that I introduced to you a while ago. Have you worked out what it was promoting?

Yep, you guessed it – someone's trying to sell an oxygen supplement ("liquid stabilised oxygen": see here for an example), & using most of the tricks in the book to do it (misrepresenting science, misleading quotes, anecdotes, & so on). As I've said to some of you before, considering the normal conditions in which we keep things like liquid nitrogen, it's amazing that these products can be sold (usually through the mail) in ordinary glass or plastic containers… Not to mention the fact that you are supposed to drink the supplement, so I guess you're supposed to absorb the extra oxygen through your gut. But, as Ben Goldacre has pointed out on more than one occasion, you don't have gills in your gut! And most people's blood is already highly saturated in oxygen, so any extra that does cross into the bloodstream will have an insignificant effect.

Apparently we need to use such supplements because the lack of oxygen in our atmosphere is the direct cause of health problems such as cancer, heart problems, Alzheimer's, arthritis… the list goes on. This is scare-mongering: most people would have concerns about their health at some point in time, & some might then be made more receptive to the promoter's claims. It's also, in places, downright wrong: take, for example, the statement that cancer cells are anaerobic & so their growth will be promoted by low oxygen levels. Certainly, cancer cells can survive using glycolsis (anaerobic respiration) alone, even when oxygen is available: something called the Warburg effect. But tumours release chemicals that promote the growth of blood vessels (angiogenesis), which enhance the flow of oxygen-bearing blood into the tumour & the surrounding tissues.

The article's riddled with figures that supposedly show that 'the human body is largely composed of the element oxygen' & so threatened by the fact that atmospheric levels of O2 are 'only' 21% (which is definitely untrue).  And so on. Using the 'liquid oxygen' product will raise tissue levels of oxygen & cure all that ails you. But hang on a moment – what's one fairly convincing demonstration that your blood contains more than enough oxygen for your body's requirements?

Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (aka 'rescue breathing) – the 'PR' part of CPR. This process saves lives through the availability of oxygen in an exhaled breath – but it wouldn't, if we were as short of oxygen as the purveyors of this product make out!

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