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Could Oxygen Be Slowly Killing Us?

Updated on December 29, 2017



How It Could Happen

Oxygen is something that every human being needs to survive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t harm us. The average human lifespan is around 71 years. Certain theories suggest that oxygen is slowly killing us over this period of time. Pure oxygen has also been proved to be poisonous and can cause oxygen toxicity.

Oxygen has the ability to breakdown the cells that form our tissue, organs, bones and blood. It also injures our DNA and enzymes. It can injure and stiffen our cell membranes, making the movement of nutrients in and out of cells more challenging while ruining our receptors for various hormones including testosterone, insulin, and thyroid (Croxton, 2002). This meaning it is very capable to be the cause of death after many years of exposure to this. Oxygen is able to terminate through oxidation or oxidative stress.

When breathing oxygen around 95% of it goes to the mitochondria, or the powerhouse of the cell. Although 3-5% of the other oxygen escapes in the form of “free radicals”. Free radicals are highly reactive uncharged molecules. These molecules burn the vital cellular apparatus.

Parts damaged can include; DNA, which controls cells. Enzymes, proteins that drive chemical reactions in cells. And membranes, cells enclosed with a lipid bilayer and have organelles inside. Free radicals burn these vital cells. The process which this takes place is “lipid peroxidation” which is present in over 200 diseases.


Possible Impacts

In 2005, a study was conducted to find if the amount of exhaled ethane, a marker of lipid peroxidation is higher in patients with interstitial lung disease. The results were that the people suffering from ILD had a higher level of exhaled ethane. It is also higher in people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Smoking is known to be paired with cancer and many other health problems. Some scientists have made a hypothesis that these negative results may be caused by oxidative damage. Oxidative modification to DNA can lead to the development of cancer (NEJM, 1995). Oxidative damage is caused by the formation of free radicals.


Free Radicals

When performing respiration everyone undergoes a small form of oxygen poisoning. This can create several free radicals. These include the SuperOxide Radical, Hydrogen Peroxide, and the Hydroxyl Radical. These can be considered toxic to the body.

The Hydroxyl Radical is considered the most dangerous. This is because it will react with the first molecule it comes in contact with. The other two radicals are less reactive, but can become dangerous when they come in contact with metals inside the body, especially iron (Unknown, 2013).


There is no way to escape the fate of death, but there are possible ways to postpone it. Keeping your lungs healthy is one of these. This allows a greater intake of oxygen to the mitochondria. This causes less free radicals to form. If less free radicals form, cell structure remains less damaged.

One way to prevent free radical damage is by eating foods with antioxidants. Also keeping healthy lungs through exercise and a regular diet will keep your lungs healthy and prevent an excessive amount of free radicals to form.


Oxygen is Killing Us. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2015, from (2013, May 26). Retrieved November 18, 2015 from,

Result Filters. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2016, from

Result Filters. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2016, from

Increase in Circulating Products of Lipid Peroxidation (F2-Isoprostanes) in Smokers - Smoking as a Cause of Oxidative Damage — NEJM. (n.d.). Retrieved August 09, 2016, from


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    • Guckenberger profile image

      Alexander James Guckenberger 2 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      This is an awesome article.