Does ozone therapy cause oxidative stress — and is that always bad?
Ozone is one heck of a molecule. Consisting of three oxygen atoms, it is known as the highly unstable free radical, O3. There is hardly a bacteria or virus which can withstand it. It can supposedly even kill the Ebola virus.
Ozone is so reactive that is just burns through any living thing if the concentration is high enough.
So for a substance that can be so destructive, it stands to reason that it must also be dangerous to humans, right? So logically, exposing a human being to this molecule must cause some damage, even during ozone therapy? Well, let’s take a look.
Many ozone practitioners have an exaggerated and often flawed view of what happens during ozone therapy. This results in doctors often combining ozone with dangerous treatments like glutathione IVs to combat the assumed oxidative stress. Or they combine it with Vitamin C which often degrades ozone to at least some degree. (Picture: Aaron Eckhart in the “Dark Knight”)
This leads us to the question: Is oxidative stress always bad?
That’s the thing: not all stress is bad, especially when we are talking about oxygen.
When scientists mention oxidative stress, they’re usually referring to radical molecules that belong to what we call reactive oxygen species (ROS). So molecules like hydroxyl radical, superoxide anion radical, hydrogen peroxide, oxygen singlet, hypochlorite, nitric oxide radical, and peroxynitrite radical. The various ROS wield varying degrees of oxidative power, and consequently face different antioxidative defenses in our bodies.
And yes, some of those highly reactive molecules are being produced in an increased manner during ozone therapy. Which is often (but not always) a good thing, as I will explain later.
Not all oxidative stress is created equal.
There are lots of sources of oxidative stress. Just to name a few:
• Smoking: Research suggests that smoking may contribute to oxidative stress by producing reactive oxygen radicals.
• Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen: I know, it’s weird — How can the lack of oxygen cause damage from oxygen? Yet, it seems to be a real phenomenon.
• Exposure to toxic metals: Chronic mercury exposure, for example, comes from having amalgam fillings in your teeth and is a common source of consistent oxidative stress.
• Other pharmaceuticals
• Ioninzing radiation is a known source of free radicals.
• Heart attacks: In recent years, researchers have been investigating increased levels of reactive oxygen species during heart attacks to understand what leads to tissue damage.
Consider the source
The effects of oxidative stress depend upon where it comes from.
For example, although hydrogen peroxide molecules may be elevated in someone exposed to toxic metals, just as they would be temporarily elevated in a patient during an ozone therapy session, toxic metals don’t have the same effect on someone as an ozone treatment would have.
Ozone therapy consists of injecting between 95 and 99% of pure oxygen into a patient.
So it all depends: what is the level of the oxidative stress, what exactly is the source, and how does the body respond to it?
The human body does not respond in equal measure to a 10 pass ozone treatment as to a closed artery (which causes ischemia and hence hypoxia and hence free oxygen radicals and hence damage). On the contrary: a 10 pass (or other forms of ozone therapy) could actually prevent arteriosclerosis.
So oxidative stress can be good.
But many have a hard time grasping the idea. Why is that?
Antioxidants are good, oxidation is bad — or the power of marketing
In order to understand why people nowadays have a hard time believing that oxidation is not always bad and that it can be even beneficial, is to understand that the idea about oxidative stress took hold in a larger population’s consciousness because of — marketing. It was mostly one man’s determined campaign spanning many years, to be precise.
The goal was to sell more blueberries.
Until then, many people had a hard time imagining that anything that’s against oxygen could be good for you.
(Read James Hamblin’s interesting Atlantic Monthly article about how Sauve, one marketing professional, solidified the notion of “healthy antioxidants” and “unhealthy oxidation” in people’s minds.)
So within a span of around 20 years people’s perception about oxygen has been turned around by 180 degrees.
Anything antioxidant has now become synonymous for “healthy” and anything “oxidative” as synonymous for unhealthy.
The marketing campaign has been a smashing success. The antioxidant market has been growing ever since, recently quoted to be over a billions dollars worth.
It wasn’t until scientists started looking more deeply into this whole oxidation / anti-oxidation business that they began to understand that reactive oxygen molecules are not entirely bad.
One person’s stress is another person’s redox signalling
Fact is, that nearly every human cell can produce reactive oxygen species, and there is a reason for it: They’re crucial for our survival. Take H2O2, for instance — hydrogen peroxide. It’s produced by a number of white blood cells, and it plays a very important role in combating viruses, bacteria, and fungi. It’s one of the very pillars of our immune system.
In other words, if you destroy our ability to produce this essential oxygen radical, you destroy the most important part of our defense system.
Some scientists who started looking into oxygen radicals began to understand the importance of those molecules which are supposed to be so harmful. They finally realized that oxidative radicals are frequently the good guys.
But the name “stress” has an intrinsically negative connotation. In order to do justice to their new findings about the positive role of reactive oxygen species, researchers coined a new term: redox signalling.
Folks who study redox signalling essentially examine the same radical molecules as the people who study oxidative stress: hydroxyl radical, hydrogen peroxide, oxygen singlet — the whole works. All of these molecules are produced by our own bodies. The only difference is that the redox-signalling guys understand the physiological or natural role they play for humans and are aware that our bodies are equipped with countermeasures in order to keep oxidative radicals from harming us: antioxidants.
What is bad oxidative stress for one, is essential and natural redox signalling for another.
Why is redox signalling important?
So the same molecules which are quoted as causing damage to cells, are also responsible for all sorts of important tasks in our bodies: like being gatekeepers of cells, managers of cell division or cell death. They also serve as messengers between our organism and our mitochondria, the “heart of our biology”.
So does ozone therapy produce oxidative stress?
No, if with oxidative stress you mean cellular damage and destruction.
Yes, if with oxidative stress you mean the support of redox signalling molecules, the support of our immune system, our antioxidant defenses, our mitochondria, and essentially every biological system which relies on oxygen.
How come ozone therapy doesn’t cause damage?
Ozone therapy has been around for over 100 years, with the first documented cases dating back to 1870. This has left lots of time to find out what works and what doesn’t — much more time than the average pharmaceutical drug on the market these days.
So, we know that ozone therapy should be only performed within well-defined parameters, and under strict conditions. For example, when used internally, concentrations of 80 mcg/ml should not be exceeded. Anything above that is not really ozone therapy (unless you apply it topically for bagging).
What happens during ozone therapy?
Used below those safe levels, ozone has been known to trigger a number of effects:
• Ozone increases the activity of antioxidant enzymes.
• It “trains” cells to be able to withstand damaging oxidative stress. Just as taking a dip in cold arctic ice water protects one’s system from colds, controlled dosages of ozone protect the body from future damage. Cells can be preconditioned to be able to withstand damaging effects of the higher levels of oxidative stress that come from the bad sources (smog, smoking, mercury poisoning, etc.)
• Ozone therapy can be used to combat chronic oxidative stress by subjecting the human body to repeated, transient, and antioxidants activating oxidative stress.
• Ozone therapy has a hormetic effect (a term that comes from the concept of Hormesis): small dosages are beneficial and stimulating, while large dosages are damaging.
In Germany, ozone is widely accepted among ozone therapists to be an excellent fighter of oxidative stress. Here a picture of a poster by one of the main German ozone generator manufacturers (Humares) during an ozone therapy course, citing oxidative stress as one of the areas ozone therapy is known to help.
A special case: mercury poisoning
What kind of article would I be writing if I didn’t mention mercury toxicity, right?
It’s hard not to mention, because mercury toxicity affects so many people these days. And it’s notoriously misdiagnosed. Many people who seek out ozone therapy treatments for what they think are chronic infections are actually experiencing mercury poisoning.
Some of them deal with troubling side effects which are not a Herxheimer reaction. Consequently, the side effects are not a natural part of the healing process when the patient undergoes ozone therapy.
Those people experience symptoms like burning and tingling sensations, pains, from headaches to nerve pain, increased fatigue or other debilitating neurological symptoms.
Symptoms which are consistent with mercury toxicity symptoms.
Often those patients have a clear history of mercury history like amalgam fillings, vaccines, or other exposures. And they experience a worsening of symptoms after undergoing ozone therapy. They have not received things like glutathione IVs or other dangerous chelation methods which are known to wreck havoc in mercury toxic people.
Is it possible that ozone therapy can contribute to oxidative stress caused by mercury?
In my opinion, yes.
But it appears to occur in a minority of individuals.
The larger majority of mercury toxic patients also suffer from inflammation or infections. In those cases, ozone for them is often like manna from heaven. They don’t want to live without it. Some become self-proclaimed ozone junkies.
But, the more mercury-toxic people that exist in the world, the more sick people there will be that turn to ozone therapy. This results in an increased number of incidents where people have not done well with ozone treatments.
In general, ozone therapy has proven to be an excellent combatant of oxidative stress.
However, some people who suffer from mercury toxicity and who do not suffer from secondary conditions it causes (inflammation, chronic infections, or impaired blood circulation) may very well see their symptoms get worse with ozone therapy. And that worsening of symptoms is very likely due to an increase in oxidative stress.
Have I left anything out? Are you contemplating whether to proceed with ozone therapy or not? Let me know in the comments below!
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