Let’s talk about oxygen.
If you are at sea level, the air is 21% oxygen. The rest is mostly nitrogen. If you're in a city, you're also breathing pollutant gasses like carbon monoxide.
Oxygen is kind of a big deal. We need it to make ATP, our cellular energy currency. ATP is made in our mitochondria, when oxygen accepts an electron from the electron transport chain, forming water and carbon dioxide in the process. Without oxygen, ATP stores drop quickly. Degeneration and death are not far behind.
Red blood cells (RBC) are the cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Each RBC has hemoglobin molecules which bind oxygen from the air we breathe. In people with normal lungs, more than 97% of these hemoglobins sites are easily bound as RBCs pass through the lungs.
The ability for our body to carry oxygen where it's needed is called oxygen carrying capacity. Most of us know about this in terms of endurance and strength training but even more essential, if oxygen carrying capacity is compromised, you can’t make enough energy and this can lead to fatigue, brain fog, cold extremities, chronic infections, more severe acute infections, and a host of other issues.
Two ways to increase oxygen carrying capacity
Increase the number of RBCs in circulation.
The more RBCs, the more hemoglobin sites to bind oxygen. The legal way to do this is by altitude training or simulating altitude in a HYPObaric environment, putting the body under hypoxic conditions that stimulate the natural hormone Epogen to be released to make more RBCs. The illegal ways to improve oxygen carrying capacity is via blood autotransfusion or exogenous Epogen administration. Remember Lance Armstrong? Blood doping = Exogenous Epogen!
Get more oxygen in circulation
The second way to increase oxygen carrying capacity is to diffuse more oxygen into the plasma or the liquid of the blood as unbound liquid oxygen. This is how Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) works.
Check out our other post to learn more specifically about HBOT and how it can help you!