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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Belly up to the Oxygen Bar!

Air Date: Week of

Just south of Central Park, near the corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue sits one of the nation's first oxygen bars. Once as free as the air we breathe, oxygen is becoming a money maker for entrepreneurs pitching products like oxygen facials and oxygen-infused beverages. Neal Rauch took a look, and a sniff, and has this report.


CURWOOD: Just south of Central Park, near the corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, sits one of the nation's first oxygen bars. That's right, oxygen. Once as free as the air we breathe, oxygen is becoming a money maker for entrepreneurs pitching products like oxygen facials and oxygen- infused beverages. Now, a purveyor of alternative medicine says that inhaling concentrated doses of oxygen can even counter the effects of air pollution. Neal Rauch took a look and a sniff and has this report.

(New Age music plays)

RAUCH: New Age music, full spectrum lighting, an air purifier, an aquarium with angel fish. That's the atmosphere at the Oxygen Station in midtown Manhattan, certainly a welcome relief from the heavily polluted air and the racket outside. It's part of an alternative health clinic, The Healing Center, which offers such services as ozone therapy, reflexology, colonic therapy, and mind-body-spirit healing. Since July, they've also been peddling oxygen. For 20 bucks you get 20 minutes of concentrated O2.

ROBBINS: We hook them up to an oxygen tank with a little plastic nasal canular, a very delicate thing that just hangs by the edge of your nose, and you breathe.

RAUCH: Howard Robbins is co-owner of The Oxygen Station. Since the mid- 80s, places like this have done a brisk business in parts of Asia, Europe, and Canada. But this is one of the first in the US.

ROBBINS: Fifty thousand years ago, by analyzing fossilized amber, scientists found that the oxygen content in the atmosphere was about 42%.

RAUCH: Today, about the 20% of the air is oxygen, but hooked up to one of Howard Robbins' tanks you're effectively sucking in about 35% O2. Robbins describes himself as a holistic alternative doctor. He's actually a trained podiatrist, not an MD, and now he's an enthusiastic champion of the gas.

ROBBINS: You can get a feeling of euphoria, very much like a runner's high. Hair will grow longer, stronger, and faster. It aids in digestion. It helps in cramps. Oxygen will wake you up. Most people tell us that they can fall asleep more easily. We know it aids in depression. It's the treatment of choice nationally for migraine and cluster headaches. And since I've been doing oxygen, the gray in my beard has almost completely disappeared, and it slows the aging process down.

(Water sounds)

RAUCH: How do you know that, that it slows the aging process?

ROBBINS: When a cell has all the energy that it needs, it lives longer because it has the energy it needs to sustain its own life, let alone do its function in the human body.

RAUCH: Hogwash, says the American Medical Association.

NELSON: To the extent that it's used as a social or as an entertainment type of a thing, I think there's no detriment to that.

RAUCH: Dr. John C. Nelson is the spokesman for the Medical Association on this issue. He says there's a limit to how much oxygen your body can absorb.

NELSON: The oxygen carrying capacity of the blood cannot be increased, other by increasing the number of blood cells. So no matter how much oxygen I am exposed to, I can only carry as much as the blood capacity that I have.

RAUCH: Dr. Nelson says only people with heart and respiratory diseases and the like could benefit from extra oxygen, and they should be treated by a physician. Still, many patrons are convinced of the benefits of breathing higher concentrations of oxygen, and Howard Robbins claims a 70% return rate. Among the enthusiasts is Peter Houghtalig, a sinus sufferer who's been coming here twice a week for the last 3 weeks.

HOUGHTALIG: It cleans out my sinuses. It's like the first day of spring that kind of rolls into your body. You taste better, you feel invigorated, and your mind clears up. I try to schedule a session at the gym afterwards, because it really helps with a workout.

NELSON: There's a reason why people seek alternative medicine. And the reason often is that we with traditional remedies are not fulfilling their needs, either physiologically or medically, or most of all, psychologically.

RAUCH: So says the AMA's Dr. Nelson. But the Oxygen Station's Howard Robbins says the results speak for themselves.

(Water sounds)

ROBBINS: Why don't you try it and find out?

RAUCH: On the house? We're public radio, we have no budget.

ROBBINS: That's not a problem.

RAUCH: Co-owner Lisa Abrams brings in a canister of gas.

ABRAMS: I'm going to hook you up to the oxygen, and in a little while I'm going to give you an oxygen cocktail. And you'll love it.

RAUCH: So just breathe normally.

ABRAMS: Just breathe normally, relax and lie back.

(New Age music plays)

RAUCH: Are any of my gray hairs disappearing?

ROBBINS: (Laughs) Not that fast. You need to be an exerciser or have massages regularly. You need to be taking in all the nutrients that's necessary for hair to grow well.

RAUCH: Wouldn't it be easier just to get some hair dye?

ROBBINS: It might be easier, but it isn't healthier.

(New Age music continues)

ABRAMS: I'm giving you an oxygen cocktail. This is fresh fruit, organic fruit, lemon and lime. This is going to perk you up, a combination oxygen therapy and aroma therapy.

RAUCH: It smells good.

ABRAMS: Relax. Enjoy it.

(New Age music continues)

RAUCH: Well, I did feel as if I had been breathing clean country air. But otherwise, bupkas. nada. nothing. And yes, I did inhale. If anything the aromatherapy gave me a slight sore throat for the rest of the day. But it certainly took less time and money than going to the country. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.



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