Aug 08 2013

Ozone Sauna

I literally get multiple questions a day about one pseudoscience or another. I will never get through them all, because new ones are being created faster than they can be examined. It is a game of whack-a-mole where the number of holes that the moles pop out of keeps increasing.

For that reason my primary goal is not just to inform my readers about one particular form of pseudoscience, but to improve critical thinking skills and working knowledge of science so that they can examine the next dubious claim on their own (the whole – give someone a fish you feed them for a day, teach them how to fish you feed them for life).  The actual topics I cover are often of secondary concern (unless they are particularly widespread and pernicious).

So, the somewhat arbitrary topic I have chosen for today, based on an e-mail question I received, is ozone sauna. The e-mailer reports about his friend:

He was given treatment using an Ozone sauna together with a much healthier diet of mainly raw vegetables. During the two weeks he lost 16lb and generally feels great. He puts this all down to the Ozone sauna! Could you please advise me if there is any proof that these are effective as he was told at the health club that they detox the body and kill all viruses, cure aids and cancer and are generally a miracle cure! All I can find on the net is adverts and woo regarding them. What are the facts.

It is unfortunate that Google searches on most snake-oil topics are overwhelmed with commercial sites selling the snake oil.  Often I am asked a question that essentially amounts to – will you do a Google search for me? That’s fine, as searching is a skill that needs to be developed.

I searched on this topic, and the first hit I got was a critical analysis. The difference is that I knew where to search. There are two basic strategies that will help you get to the skeptical resources you’re looking for. The first is to know where the deep resources are, and go straight for them. In this case I plugged in the terms, “ozone therapy” and “Quackwatch,” and came up with a Quackwatch article that had all the info I needed, including a nice list of references.  Science-Based Medicine is another deep resource on medical issues. PubMed is a good resource for primary articles, but these can often be technical.

The second basic strategy is to search on multiple variations of the term and include other phrases that might bring critical articles closer to the top, including “skeptic,” “skeptical,” “hoax,” “scam,” “evidence,” “scientific analysis,” “critical,” or other variations of similar terms. Be a little persistent and see which strategies work best.

Ozone Therapy

So what does the Quackwatch article have to say? It is a well sourced and written article (by Saul Green), so I simply recommend that if you are interested in the topic, just read the article itself. Here is the conclusion:

Oxygenation therapists proposed that disease is caused by absence of oxygen and loss of cellular ability to use oxygen for “good energy” metabolism, detoxification, and immune system function. Oxygen therapies are proposed in order to restore the body’s ability to produce “good” energy, to “detoxify” metabolic poisons, and to kill invading organisms. However, over the five decades that have passed since this concept was proposed, scientists have shown that:

  1. Anerobic energy metabolism (fermentation) is not the cause of cancer.
  2. Koch’s glyoxylide does not exist.
  3. Ingestion, infusion, or injection of hydrogen peroxide cannot re-oxygenate the tissues of the body.
  4. Ozone-treated blood infused during autohemotherapy does not kill AIDS virus in vivo.

This article is from 1998 so I did more searching on PubMed. Before I discuss this, however, let me give a bit more background. Ozone is O3 – three oxygen atoms bound together. It is a highly reactive oxygen molecule. It has two potential overall effects – providing more oxygen to tissues, and using oxidative reactions to kill bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.

This is ironic because it flies in the face of the whole antioxidant craze, and it brings up a major weakness of that craze. Oxygen and oxygen free radicals are a two-edged sword. Tissues need oxygen, and they use oxygen free radicals as part of the immune system to kill invaders, but they also damage host tissue. So there needs to be a delicate balance. Pushing this balance in one direction or the other, with antioxidants or ozone, is unlikely to provide side-effect free benefits, and may cause more harm than good.

Having said that – ozone therapy has some legitimate uses – mainly external (topical, dental, or on blood products) to kill bacteria. It has been shown to inactivate HIV, but so do many other things that are not useful in therapy.

Here is the bottom line, more than a decade after the above Quackwatch article was written – ozone is a useful molecule for killing bugs and is finding some external uses. It has not been shown to be effective for internal use, it is not a treatment for HIV or cancer. Further, it should not be assumed to be safe or without any negative effects.

The further claim made by proponents that ozone therapy “detoxifiers” is pure pseudoscience. Nonspecific detoxification itself is a scam, whether by ozone or any other method.


Ozone therapy is just another in an endless line of pseudoscientific claims made without adequate justification. Ozone itself may have some useful applications as a highly reactive molecule, but is not useful as part of a sauna or similar use.

That information is available online, but I understand it can be tricky to find it. Finding and evaluating the quality of information is increasingly becoming a critical life skill.

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