Oxygen Metabolism

The human system will begin to disorganize and die
after several minutes without oxygen. It is a logical
progression of thought that leads to the possibility that
altering oxygen metabolism might be curative for diseases
that have an oxygen deficiency component to their etiology.
Both moderate and vigorous body movement and the
accompanying muscle work increase oxygen demand in the
cells. Evidence from research in exercise physiology
demonstrates that muscular activity accelerates the rate of
oxygen uptake from the blood(10,11,12,13). It has been shown
that training and practice increase ventilitory threshold,
anarobic threshold and mechanical efficiency.(14,15) This
suggests that regular body movement with increased breath
activity supports adaptation toward increased functional
efficiency in the uptake and utilization of oxygen from the

One early source (1896) suggests that just the
muscular activity of the breath mechanism itself is enough
to increase the uptake of oxygen from the blood.(16) This is
not a widely accepted idea. However, most traditional
systems of medicine include elaborate methods of breath
practice. Some exploration of this mechanism for the
absorption and utilization of oxygen is being
undertaken.(17) A recent animal study demonstrates that the
movement of the breathing apparatus alone may generate
oxygen demand(18). Both Qigong and Yoga/Pranayama include
breath practices where there is no body movement except of
the breathing apparatus itself. Such research suggests that
simple breathing techniques alone may increase the amount of
oxygen absorbed from the blood. Individuals who are
resricted in their movement due to health problems may have
access to some of the benefits that have traditonally been
reserved for those who do vigorous exercise.

Certain dynamic (active, moving) Qigong and Yoga
methods increase the oxygen uptake by virtue of the greater
requirement for chemical energy by the cells. Other more
quiescent (inactive, still) methods tend to decrease oxygen
uptake due to the the lowering of metabolic activity. It has
been found that some practitioners of these traditional
practices have refined their ability to the point where they
actually enter into altered states where the physiological
need for food, air or sleep have been almost completely

The Framingham Study on risk factors for cardiac
disease, completed in 1970 by the National Heart and Lung
Institute, found that decreased vital respiratory capacity
(breath volume in relation to tissue uptake) was directly
associated with increased mortality.(19) In Australia an
extensive 13 year study completed in 1983 which measured
similar parameters of long life, demonstrated that
respiratory capacity was “a powerful determining variable”,
more significant in predicting longevity than tobacco use,
insulin metabolism or cholesterol levels. (20)

Recently there has been a tremendous amount of
activity in both research and clinical practice which
suggests that many deficiency disorders and degenerative
diseases are, at least partially, attributable to oxygen
metabolism dysfunction, oxygen deficiency or hypoxia.
(21,22,23). This view is supported by many of the great
names in research; Albert Szent-Gyorgi, Otto Warburg,
Emmanuel Revici and Linus Pauling. The Asian systems of self
applied health maintenance like Qigong and Yoga/Pranayama
proposed this view and developed specific methods for
application centuries ago.

The practice of Qigong and Yoga increase oxygen
availability which potentially:

  1. Supports energy (ATP, AMP, ADP)

  2. Generates water as a by product
    of energy metabolism which contributes a major portion to
    the lymph supply.

  3. Enhances immune

  4. Supports the body’s ability to
    neutralize free radicals.

1. Energy

It has been well established that the energy necessary for
cell work and body heat regulation is supplied through the
reaction of oxygen and glucose to form high energy phosphate
bonds.(24) There is a direct relationship between oxygen
demand, the impulse to breath and the basal metabolic rate
(BMR, the rate that the cells in the body consume oxygen and
glucose to produce water, carbon dioxide and energy).
Hydrolysis of adenosine triposphate (ATP) is accomanied by
the release of chemical energy for cellular and muscular

Preliminary research demonstrates that ATP may be an
analog to one aspect of what the Chinese call “Qi” and what
the Oriental Indians call “Prana”, the vital force or life
energy. The aspect of the Qi that is the “basic dynamic
force of all vital function” is called Zhen Qi (Genuine
Energy).(25) A study presented at the 1988 World Conference
on the Academic Exchange of Medical Qigong revealed that
blood ATP content increased with exercises which cultivate
the Qi.(26) When the mysterious practice of Qi emission was
performed the subject’s ATP was found to have decreased.

The simple methods of Qigong practice, movement,
breath practice moderated with concentration, relaxation and
intention may bring a primary substrate of Qi or Prana
production, namely oxygen, into the body’s energy metabolism
cycle. This chain of events is called the “cycle of the
transformation of energy” by the chinese.(27) It is likely,
however, that this is only one of the components of the
broad array of possible energetic mechanisms involved in
acupuncture, Qi Gong and other oriental health

In the west we generally characterize ancient medicine
as unscientific or even primitive. The Chinese “formula” for
the transformation of Qi seems overly simplified. Gu Qi
(grain qi), the essence or life force of food, mixes with
Kong Qi (28) or Qing Qi(25) (natural air qi), the essence or
life force of air to form Zhen Qi (true qi) or the life
force of the body.(25,28,29)

Gu Qi


Kong (Qing) QI


Zhen Qi

Energy of Food


Energy of Air


Body energy

However, it is this same basic formula, disguised in
the vocabulary of Western science, that is used in modern




















carbon dioxide



Oxygen (O2) plus glucose (C6H12O6) through BMR yields
energy in the form of high energy phosphate bonds
(especially ATP) plus water (H2O) which dissolves carbon
dioxide (CO2) and facilitates the hydrolysis of energy
yielding phosphate bonds. It seems that the chinese knew,
without a particularly refined scientific method, that only
a portion of the air and food, the essence, was employed in
the process: only 20% of air is oxygen and glucose is
approximately 60% of food.(24)

The Chinese knew about circulation of the blood
approximately 2000 years before William Harvey described it
in 1616.(25,28,29) They knew about the energy generating
relationship of food and air 2300 years before the
elaboration of the Krebs cycle.(25,28,29) The simplicity of
the Chinese formula encourages the use of the movement and
breath as a health enhancing factor while the complexity of
the Western scientific formula tends to mask the importance
of the breath and makes the benefits of simple breath
practice less accessable to the average health seeker?

2. Water

A second critical benefit of increased oxygen metabolism
generated through the practice of moderate body movement and
breathing exercises is linked to the lymph system. Besides
the production of energy, in the phosphorylization cycle,
there is also the generation of pure water as a waste
product or by product.(30) This water is dramatically and
directly increased when oxygen consumption is increased at
the cell. Because this water becomes involved with the
internal cleansing performed by the lymph it is a major link
between the breath and lymphatic system function.
(Discussion follows in lymph section)

3. Immune

ATP drives the activity of every cell. Therefore, immune
function as well as the production of immune resources
(white blood cells, lymphocytes, t-cells, killer cells, etc)
are indirectly dependent on oxygen consumption. These
activities become deficient in individuals who are unwell.
It has been shown that exercise can mobilize the effect of
natural killer(NK) cells.(31) In individuals who exercise so
vigorously that they exceed the aerobic level and cross the
anaerobic threshold immune function is decreased.(32,33)
Both suggest that oxygen deficiency leads to decreased
immune function and that moderate exercise increases immune

In his research, Nobel Prize recipient Otto Warburg
found that oxygen deficiency was typical of cancer
cells.(34) There are numerous studies that associate reduced
oxygen intake with increased mortality (19,20) and reduced
resistance to disease. In studies with elders
immunodeficiency was found to be one of several consequences
of reduced oxygen metabolism.(35).

Oxygen’s effect on the immune function has been
demonstrated through research studies on two nutrients that
have been shown to have immunomodulating capability.
Germanium, an element that bonds easily with oxygen, is
thought to increase the efficiency of the use of oxygen in
the mitochondria of the cell. In addition, it may help to
decrease free radicals in the blood. In a German study it
was found that in elderly, injured, stressed and
hospitalized individuals the arterial oxygen content is
often reduced from normal levels.(36) Administration of
oxygen was found to elevate the arterial oxygen content and
increase recovery rates. The experimental addition of
germanium to the treatment protocol increased oxygen
utilization and further accelerated the healing

Blood studies on patients with AIDS revealed, in
addition to deficient immune capability, low concentrations
of Co enzyme Q10, a co enzyme present in all healthy cells.
The patients were administered CoQ10 and their symptoms as
well as blood immune factors improved.(37) Co Q10 apparently
improves the ability of oxygen to produce ATP. Both
germanium and Co Q10 enhance the ability of oxygen to
support immune function with the implication that increased
oxygen through Qigong or Yoga/Pranayama may have a direct
impact on immune deficiency states.

4. Free Radical

There are multiple factors that modify oxygen demand and
uptake besides the cell work of body movement and organ
function. Such factors include the effects of chemical and
environmental stress caused by foods, water and airborn
pollution. Emotional, relational or career stressors, the
stress of injury and the stress of infection also effect the
body’s ability to absorb and utilize oxygen. Accumulation of
these effects can negatively impact on oxygen metabolism and
precipitate functional imbalances in the human system.

The normal activity of energy metabolism creates a
certain number of by-products. These molecules are called
free radicals. With the impact of the above mentioned
stressors greater amounts of free radicals are produced. All
normal molecules have paired electrons in their outer
electron orbits. Free radicals are unstable molecules with
an unpaired electron in their outermost electron orbit. In
an effort to return to a stable state these renegade
molecules steal electrons from healthy molecules causing
tissue damage and aging.

The body produces a number of antioxidant enzymes,
superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase and
methione reductase, whose job is to neutralize the free
radicals produced in normal energy metabolism. However, in
an imbalanced or unwell system demand for antioxidant
enzymes is high and natural productivity, due to pathology,
may be low.

When slow, deep breathing and moderate body motion is
activated there is an increased demand for oxygen molecules
which are taken up from the blood. The potential for free
radicals to bond with this available oxygen, neutralizing
the free radical population, may be greatly accelerated when
regular Qigong or Yoga/Pranayama is included in a person’s
daily health routine.

There are a number of strategies for resolution of
oxygen deficiency disease (ODD) including the use of
antioxidant nutrients (Vit. A, C, E and selenium),
antioxidant enzymes, coenzyme Q10, germanium and germanium
bearing herbs and hyperbaric oxygen. There is, however,
nothing more available, inexpensive and obvious than oxygen
itself taken in maximum daily doses through moderate
exercise and breathing exercises.

©1996 Roger Jahnke,

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Written by Roger Jahnke OMD

Explore Wellness in 2021