Oxygen therapy can harm the heart and brain ... unless this is added

July 10, 2007
Volume 04    |   Issue 28

We used to think it was safe, but it?s not. I?m talking about oxygen therapy. Emergency personnel routinely give it to resuscitate people who have had a heart attack, stroke, or carbon monoxide poisoning. You may have even had it yourself.

Well, a new study out of UCLA (May 2007) proves that pure oxygen isn?t as harmless as we thought. The researchers found that it can actually damage your heart and brain - permanently.

Until now, we haven?t known what happens inside the brain when we?re given pure oxygen. But the researchers at UCLA used functional magnetic resonance imaging to take pictures inside the brains of children who inhaled oxygen. The imaging allowed the research team to watch for any subtle changes in blood flow. What they saw was astonishing.

The children breathed more rapidly than usual. This caused them to exhale too much carbon dioxide. This drop in carbon dioxide narrowed their blood vessels. The result: less oxygen could get to their heart and brain tissues.

But that?s not all. The hypothalamus regulates heart rate and hormones. The pure oxygen caused their hypothalamus to overreact and allowed hormones and neurotransmitters to flood their bloodstream. These chemicals interfere with the heart?s ability to pump blood and carry oxygen. So giving pure oxygen caused their hearts and brains to get less oxygen, not more.

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There?s a simple solution to this problem, say the researchers. Just add a little carbon dioxide. This relaxes the hypothalamus and slows down the release of hormones and neurotransmitters.

The authors of this study suggest that doctors add a little carbon dioxide to oxygen if they intend to give oxygen to a patient for more than a few minutes. Sounds to me like it should just be part of a new protocol. It?s already standard care in many European hospitals.

If you know anyone who has just had a stroke or heart attack, be sure to ask their attending doctor to add carbon dioxide to any oxygen they may give. Better yet, print out this health alert and give it to all the doctors you know. It could protect the hearts and brains of many patients. Even yours.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Macey, PM, et al, "Hyperoxic brain effects are normalized by addition of CO2", PloS Med, May 22, 2007.

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