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Ozone: Life-Threatening Pollutant or Powerful Healing Agent? by Nathaniel Altman

author of Oxygen Healing Therapies

It's summer in New York City and the National Weather Service has posted another ozone advisory. A grayish haze hangs over the entire metropolitan area, and the air tastes gritty and stale. Young children and adults with lung problems are told to stay indoors, because ozone can aggravate allergies, bronchitis, asthma and other health problems. That's because when combined with carbon dioxide, peroxyacetyl nitrate and other gases (caused by auto exhaust, factories and power plants), ozone becomes a dangerous pollutant. It can not only damage the sensitive surfaces of the respiratory tract and the lungs, but also corrodes buildings and monuments. It can kill the leaves of the trees and also damages crops. In large urban centers like Los Angeles, Sao Paulo and Mexico City, ozone-laden smog has become a major threat to human health. It is no wonder why so many people have negative feelings about it.

Yet at a clinic on West 72nd Street in the heart of Manhattan, the treatment room is filled with patients who are paying up to $100 to have ozone and oxygen infused into their veins. They believe that ozone will help heal them of cancer, heart disease, candida, HIV-related problems and a host of other diseases. Over ten million people have been treated in Europe with ozone, and many swear by its' safety and effectiveness.

There are few elements that have been as controversial as ozone, and none that have created such a medical paradox: how can a gas be both dangerous to health as a pollutant, yet can also be used to effectively treat some of humanity's most threatening diseases?

Ozone: The Basics

Ozone is an elemental form of oxygen occurring naturally in the Earth's atmosphere, it surrounds the Earth at an altitude of between 50,000 and 100,000 feet.1 As a pale blue gas that condenses to a deep blue liquid at very low temperatures, it is created in nature when ultraviolet energy causes oxygen atoms to temporarily recombine in groups of three. Ozone is also formed by the action of electrical discharges on oxygen, so it is often created by thunder and lightning. When we go outside after a thunderstorm, the air seems to smell like freshly-mown hay. This is due to the small quantities of ozone generated by the storm. Ozone is also produced commercially in ozone generators, which involve sending an electrical discharge through a specially-built condenser containing oxygen. Because it is made up of three atoms of oxygen, ozone is known chemically as O3. The newly-formed molecule is quick to react with other substances.

When occurring in the upper atmosphere, ozone forms a protective layer that absorbs much of the sun's ultraviolet radiation, which can cause mutation, cancer, sunburn, immunosuppression and other problems. If it were not for the ozone layer, the survival of animal and plant life on this planet would be impossible. The depletion of the ozone layer by the use of chloroflourocarbons (CFC's), mostly released into the atmosphere by refrigerators, air conditioner and aerosol containers is of grave concern to scientists and physicians the world over. In addition to the health problems just mentioned, ultraviolet radiation has also been cited as a factor in poor crop growth, such as certain species of grains. After many years of study and a considerable degree of procrastination on the part of industry and government, efforts are finally being made to phase out the use of CFC's completely within the next few decades.

However, ozone becomes a pollutant in the lower atmosphere when hydrocarbons (like carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide) from vehicular exhaust and other sources combine with ozone in sunlight, creating photochemical smog. As a result, new and often highly corrosive pollutants are formed. The number of possible chemical reactions that can occur when ozone is combined with these oxides can reach into the hundreds. The effects of ozone- laden smog has been linked to acid rain, a variety of lung-related diseases and the oxidation of buildings and monuments, especially in cities where smog is frequent. Scientific studies in this country have emphasized the negative effects of ozone on breathing. This may be one reason why physicians and others feel that ozone is not only medically useless, but is a dangerous substance to take into the body under any circumstances. However, the value of ozone cannot be dismissed so easily.

Properties and Uses

First "discovered" until 1840 by the German chemist Christian Frederick Schonbein at the University of Basel in Switzerland, ozone gas was used for the first time to disinfect operating rooms in 1856, with the first water treatment plant to use ozone to purify municipal water supplies built in Monaco in 1860. Purifying water with ozone simple: a small amount of ozone is added to oxygen and bubbled through the water. Not only does it kill viruses and bacteria, but it removes the microorganisms that cause bad taste and odor in the water as well.

Ozone is powerful oxidizer that can kill a wide variety of viruses, bacteria and other toxins. It also oxidizes phenolics (a poisonous compound of methanol and benzine), pesticides, detergents, chemical manufacturing wastes and aromatic (smelly) compounds more rapidly and effectively than chlorine, yet without its harmful residues.2 For this reason, ozone has become the element of choice to disinfect and purify drinking water and wastewater through a wide variety of applications.
  1. Municipal water treatment.
More than a hundred different viruses that are excreted in human feces can be found in contaminated drinking water. Viruses like those associated with hepatitis infect thousands of people a year, and survive for a long period of time in potable water. As a potent virucide, ozone is seen as an effective alternative to chlorine, which (in addition to leaving undesirable tastes and odor) may yield chloroform and other compounds that are potentially carcinogenic.3 According to The Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology:

"Chlorination as it is practiced in potable-water treatment plants cannot adequately remove viruses to an acceptable level. The complete control of viruses by ozone at low dosage levels is well documented."4

As a potent oxidizer, ozone kills bacteria by rupturing the cell wall. Among the harmful microorganisms that ozone can oxidize are Escherichia coli, Streptococcus fecalis, Mycobacterium tuberculosum, Bacillus megatherium (spores) and Endamoeba histolytica. The Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology reports that:

"Ozone displays an all-or-nothing effect in terms of destroying bacteria. This effect can be attributed to the high oxidation potential of ozone. Ozone is such a strong germicide that only a few micrograms per liter are required to measure germicidal action."5

Today more than 2500 municipalities around the world purify their water supplies with ozone, including Los Angeles, Paris, Montreal, Moscow, Kiev, Singapore, Brussels, Florence, Turin, Marseilles, Manchester and Amsterdam.

Ozone has also been used to purify the water in public swimming pools since 1950. During the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles during the summer of 1984, the European teams insisted that the water in the swimming pools be treated with ozone (as opposed to chlorine) or they would not participate in the events.
  1. Ozone in Industry
Ozone is used by the bottling industry to disinfect the inside of soda and beer bottles. The ozone later disappears as it decomposes to oxygen. Brewers also use ozone to remove any residual bad taste and odor from the water used in beer production. Ozone is also utilized by the pharmaceutical industry as a disinfectant, and in the manufacture of electrical components to oxidize surface impurities. Ozone concentrations of 1 to 3 parts per million are used to inhibit the growth of molds and bacteria in stored foods like eggs, meat, vegetables and fruits.6
  1. Wastewater Pollution Control
Ozone can break down industrial wastes like phenol and cyanide so that they become biodegradable. It is often utilized to oxidize mining wastes, wastes from the photographic industry, and the oxidation of harmful compounds like heavy metals, ethanol and acetic acid.7

Ozone is also used to disinfect municipal wastewater, and to clean up lakes and streams that have become polluted by sewage and other pollutants. Unlike chlorine, ozone can clean up a lake or stream without killing the resident animal life nor leaving potentially harmful chemical residues in the ecosystem.
  1. Air and odor treatment
In the United States, over 100 ozone generators are used by both municipalities and private companies to remove noxious odors from treated sewage. Sewage contains high amounts of foul-smelling chemicals like sulfides, amines and olefins. Ozone gas does not mask their odors: it oxidates these compounds and renders them odor-free.

Ozone is also used to reduce odors in rendering plants, paper mills, compost operations, underground railways, tunnels and mines. The food industry uses minute amounts of ozone to treat odors in dairies, fish processing plants, and slaughterhouses. 6, 7
  1. Medical Ozone
After the turn of the century, interest began to focus on the uses of ozone in medical therapy. The Berlin physician Albert Wolff first utilized ozone to treat skin diseases in 1915, and the German Army used ozone extensively during World War I to treat a wide variety of battle wounds and other infections.

However, it was not until 1932 that ozone was seriously studied by the scientific community, when ozonated water was used as a disinfectant by Dr. E.A. Fisch, a German dentist. One of his patients was the surgeon Erwin Payr, who immediately saw the therapeutic possibilities of ozone in medical therapy. Dr. Payr, along with the French physician P. Aubourg, was the first medical doctor to apply ozone gas through rectal insufflation to treat mucous colitis and fistulae. In 1945, Payr pioneered the method of injecting ozone intravenously for the treatment of circulatory disturbances.

The first physician to treat cancer with ozone was Dr. W. Zable in the late 1950's, followed by Drs. P.G. Seeger, A. Varro, and H. Werkmeister. During the next twenty years, hundreds of German physicians began using ozone in their practice to treat a wide variety of diseases (both alone and as a compliment to traditional medical therapy) through a number of applications, which we will discuss later on. Horst Kief, M.D. is believed to be the first doctor to use ozone therapy to successfully treat patients infected with HIV.

Today some 8000 licensed health practitioners (including medical doctors, homeopathic physicians and naturopaths) in Germany use ozone in their practices, while some 15,000 practitioners use ozone on the European continent, either alone or as a compliment to other therapies. While considered "experimental" by North American scientists, the medical uses of ozone are well-known and well-established outside the United States.

Research in Medical Ozone

Since the end of World War II, literally hundreds of laboratory and clinical studies in the medical uses of ozone have been done, primarily in Europe, and their findings have been published in a variety of scientific and medical journals. Most have been published in German, with the exception of those of findings first reported at international medical conferences sponsored by the International Ozone Association, which were presented in English. At the present time, the bulk of scientific research in the medical uses of ozone are being undertaken in Cuba, Russia and Germany, where researchers receive the cooperation and support of the government and major universities. Research is going on to a far lesser extent in the United States, France, Italy, Mexico and Canada.

However, one recent Canadian study received world-wide attention. Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, it showed that ozone kills the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the hepatitis and herpes viruses and other agents in the blood used for transfusion. The article's author added: "The systemic use of ozone in the treatment of AIDS could not only reduce the virus load but also possibly revitalize the immune system."8

Some of the most exciting research in ozone therapy is taking place in two unlikely countries: Russia and Cuba. It has been approved by the health ministries of both countries and is fast becoming part of the medical mainstream.

Why are the Cubans and Russians so interested in ozone? Citizens of both countries have enjoyed socialized medicine for decades, so private drug manufacturers and private hospitals and clinics have traditionally played a small or nonexistent role in determining the direction of the health care system. As mentioned before, ozone cannot be patented, it is extremely cheap to produce, and can be used effectively in a wide range of therapeutic applications. In countries like the United States, where large drug companies are directly or indirectly involved in all medical research and lobby to influence governmental policy, there is simply no interest in researching the possibilities of ozone therapy. Yet in countries where the profit motive is absent from health care, physicians, chemists and other researchers traditionally enjoy both government support and funding for their work.

Medical Applications

The applications for ozone in medical therapy were first documented in European medical journals in the mid-1930's. Since that time, over 1000 articles have been published in medical and scientific journals, mostly in German, Russian and Spanish.

Used primarily to kill viruses, destroy bacteria and eliminate fungi, ozone produces a number of important benefits in the human body, including the oxygenation of blood, improved blood circulation, and stimulating the oxygen- producing facility in human tissues. It is also an important immunoregulator. For these reasons, the range of human health problems that can respond favorably to ozone therapy is quite broad. According to Drs. Siegfried Rilling and Renate Viebahn in their book The Use of Ozone in Medicine, physicians have used ozone therapy in the areas of angiology (blood vessels), dermatology, (including allergology and proctology), gastroenterology, gerontology, intensive care, gynecology, neurology, odontology (dental medicine), oncology, orthopedics, proctology, radiology, rheumatology, surgery (including vascular surgery) and urology.9 As the Canadian report cited earlier indicated, ozone has been proven to effectively purify human blood supplies.

According to the Europe-based Medical Society for Ozone 10 (with branches in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland) and the National Center for Scientific Research in Cuba 11, 12, 13, physicians are currently treating the following diseases with different forms of ozone therapy:

Diseases Treated with Ozone Therapy 10

Allergies (hypersensitivity)
Anal fissures
Cancerous tumors
Cerebral sclerosis
Circulatory disturbances
Cirrhosis of the liver
Climacterium (menopause)
Corneal ulcers11
Decubitus (bedsores)
Fungal diseases
Gastro-doudenal ulcers11
Gastro-intestinal disorders
Herpes (simplex and zoster)
Mucous colitis
Nerve-related disorders
Parkinson's disease
Raynaud's disease
Retinitis pigmentosa11
Rheumatoid arthritis11
Scars (after radiation)
Senile dementia11
Sepsis control11
Sudeck's disease
Ulcus cruris (open leg sores)
Wound healing disturbances

Ozone in the Dentist's Office

Since one of the pioneers in ozone therapy was a dentist, it is important to mention that ozone has an important place in dental practice as well. According to the German dentist Fritz Kramer, ozone, such as in the form of ozonated water, can be used in the following ways:
  1. As a powerful disinfectant.
  2. In its ability to control bleeding.
  3. In its ability to cleanse wounds in bones and soft tissue
  4. By improving the local supply of oxygen to the wound area, ozone can improve healing.
  5. Ozonated water can increase temperature in the area of the wound, and this improve the metabolic processes related to healing.
Dr. Kramer points out that ozonated water can be used in a number of different ways:
  1. As a mouth rinse (especially in cases of gingivitis, paradentosis, thrush or stomatitis);
  2. as a spray to cleanse the affected area, and to disinfect oral mucosa, cavities and in general dental surgery;
  3. As an ozone/water jet to clean cavities of teeth being capped, receiving root canal therapy, and in treating painful gingivitis and stomatitis.14
How is Ozone Therapy Applied?

Over the past sixty years, over a dozen methods have been developed in the application of ozone in medical therapy. In most cases, tiny amounts of ozone are added to pure oxygen (usually consisting of 0.05 parts of ozone to 99.95 parts of oxygen for internal use and 5 parts of ozone to 95 parts of oxygen for external applications). The exact amount used is determined on a case by case basis, as physicians have found that not enough ozone can be ineffective, while too much ozone can be immuno- suppressive. At the present time, there are eight simple methods and one highly complex method of ozone therapy that are used in medical practice.
  1. Direct Intra-arterial and intravenous application
An ozone/oxygen mixture is slowly injected into an artery or vein with a hypodermic syringe. This method is used primarily for arterial circulatory disorders. According to Gerard V. Sunnen, M.D., "Due to accidents produced by too rapid introduction of the gas mixture into the circulation, this technique is now rarely used".15
  1. Rectal insufflation
First pioneered by Payr and Aubourg in the 1930's, a mixture of ozone and oxygen is introduced through the rectum and absorbed into the body through the intestine. Used for a wide variety of health problems, this method is considered one of the safest. In a typical treatment for ulcerative colitis, for example, 75 micrograms of ozone per milliliter of oxygen are used (treatment begins with 50ml of oxygen which can be increased slowly to 500 ml per treatment) 16 While administered under medical supervision in Germany, Russia and Cuba, a growing number of private individuals in the United States use this method for self-treatment for cancer, HIV-related problems and other diseases.
  1. Intramuscular injection
A small amount of an ozone and oxygen mixture (up to 10 ml) are injected into the patient (usually in the buttocks) like a normal injection would be. This method is commonly used to treat allergies and inflammatory diseases. Intramuscular injections are sometimes utilized as an adjunct to cancer therapies in Europe.
  1. Major and minor autohemotherapy
Used since the 1960's, minor autohemotherapy involves removing a small amount (usually 10 ml) of the patient's blood from a vein with a hypodermic syringe. The blood is then treated with ozone and oxygen, and given back to the patient with an intramuscular injection. Thus the blood and ozone becomes a type of auto-vaccine given to the patient that is derived from their own cells, thus forming a unique vaccine that can be very specific and effective in treating the patient's health problem.

Major autohemotherapy calls for the removal of between 50-100 ml of the patient's blood. Ozone and oxygen are then bubbled into the blood for several minutes, and then the ozonated blood is re- introduced into a vein. These methods have been used successfully to treat a wide variety of health problems, including herpes, arthritis, cancer, heart disease and HIV-infection. It is probably the most commonly-used type of ozone therapy today.
  1. Ozonated water
This method calls for ozone gas to be bubbled through water, and the water is used externally to bathe wounds, burns and slow- healing skin infections. It is also used as a disinfectant by dentists who perform dental surgery. In Russia, physicians are using ozonated water to irrigate body cavities during surgery. In both Russia and Cuba, ozonated water is used to treat a wide variety of intestinal and gynecological problems, including ulcerative colitis, duodenal ulcers, gastritis, diarrhea and vulvovaginitis.17
  1. Intra-articular injection
In this method, ozone gas is bubbled through water and the mixture is injected directly between the joints. It is used primarily by physicians in Germany, Russia and Cuba to treat arthritis, rheumatism and other joint diseases.
  1. Ozone bagging
This non-invasive method uses a specially-made plastic bag that is placed around the area to be treated. An ozone/oxygen mixture is pumped into the bag and the mixture is absorbed into the body through the skin. Ozone bagging is primarily recommended for treating leg ulcers, gangrene, fungal infections, burns and slow- healing wounds.

Ozone in a "sauna bag" (which leaves the head uncovered) is now being used to treat more generalized health problems, such as HIV- infection. Typically the patient would take a arm shower and get into the bag. Pure oxygen mixed with small amounts of ozone are then pumped into the bag for a period of twenty to thirty minutes, making contact with all skin surfaces. The skin absorbs the ozone. According to Dr. Sunnen: "Surprisingly, the mixture is able to penetrate far enough into the capillary networks to raise blood oxygen pressure. Presumably then, ozone is able to exert its biochemical influence."18
  1. Ozonated oil
Used primarily to treat skin problems, ozone gas is added to olive oil and applied as a balm or salve for long-term, low-dose exposure. Other bases (such as sunflower oil) for salves and creams have been developed in Cuba and are applied externally to treat a wide variety of problems including fungal infections (including athlete's foot), fistulae, leg ulcers, bed sores, gingivitis, herpes simplex, hemorrhoids, vulvovaginitis, bee stings, insect bites, acne and other skin-related problems.

The Cubans are also using capsules filled with ozonized oil to treat gastro-duodenal ulcers, gastritis, giardia and peptic ulcers.
  1. Inhalation of ozone
The lungs are the organs most sensitive to ozone. Physicians who use medical ozone warn that inhaling ozone into the lungs can bring about alterations in the density of the lung tissue, can damage delicate lung membranes, irritate the epithelium [the surface layer of mucus] in the trachea and bronchi, and can lead to emphysema. They caution users that no ozone should escape into the room in which it is being used. Modern medical ozone generators are specially designed so that the accidental escape of ozone gas cannot take place. Dr. Stephen A. Levine, the co-author of Antioxidant Adaptation, cautions people against using commercial air purifiers which generate small amounts of ozone to clean the air, since ozone should not be inhaled.

Having said this, it is important to point out that in Russia, tiny amounts of ozone are being added to oxygen for short-term therapeutic inhalation in certain cases. This has been done with patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, and doctors have been impressed with the results. No adverse effects were observed.19

Although ozone can be dangerous when mishandled, ozone therapy is safe when administered by a qualified practitioner at established protocols. A 1982 German study of 384,775 patients (5,779,238 treatments) documented only a 0.0007% rate of adverse side effects.21 However, some physicians believe that direct IV application of ozone is dangerous.

We need to develop a deeper awareness of the importance of ozone, and learn to view it in a broader perspective. On one hand, we must work to reduce the pollutants which combine with ozone in the lower atmosphere by conserving the energy we use at home and at work, buying products that can be repaired instead of replaced, using our cars less, walking and riding bicycles more, and taking public transportation whenever possible will help. At the same time, we must support the use of alternatives to the many dangerous chemicals that destroy the fragile ozone later which is rapidly being depleted.

At the same time, we can educate ourselves in the therapeutic use of medical ozone. As an inexpensive gas that is readily available, simple to produce, and safe to use, the potential of medical ozone in both preventing and treating disease is enormous. Its' use can not only help solve the nation's health care crisis (by providing cheap and safe preventative as well as crisis care), but can help eliminate much of the suffering brought about by the side effects of chemotherapy, surgery and other invasive medical procedures.

  1. Chemical Technology: An Encyclopedic Treatment, Vol. 1, (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1968) p. 79.
  2. Chemical Technology, op. cit. pp. 82-3.
  3. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, Vol. 12, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1987) p. 610
  4. Othmer, Kirk, Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, Vol. 16, 3rd ed. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1981) p. 705
  5. Ibid., p. 704
  6. Chemical Technology: An Encyclopedic Treatment, op. cit. p. 82
  7. Othmer, Kirk, op. cit., p. 710
  8. Baggs, A.C., "Are Worry-Free Transfusions Just a Whiff of Ozone Away?" Canadian Medical Association Journal, April 1, 1993, p. 1159.
  9. Rilling, S. and Viebahn, R., The Use of Ozone in Medicine (Heidelberg: Haug Publishers, 1987) p. 17
  10. Ibid., pp. 177-8
  11. Proceedings of the First Iberolatinamerican Congress on Ozone Application (Havana: National Center for Scientific Research, 1990)
  12. Revista CENIC, Vol. 20, No 1-2-3, 1989
  13. Menendez, Silvia, Ozomed/Ozone Therapy (Havana: National Center for Scientific Research, 1993)
  14. Kramer, Fritz, "Ozone in the Dental Practice", Medical Applications of Ozone (Norwalk, CT: International Ozone Association, Pan American Committee, 1983) pp. 258-65
  15. Sunnen, Gerard, "Ozone in Medicine: Overview and Future Direction", Journal of Advancement in Medicine, Vol. 1, No. 3, Fall 1988.
  16. Rilling, S., and Viebahn, R., op. cit., pp. 136-7
  17. Proceedings of the First Iberolatinamerican Congress on Ozone Applications, op. cit.
  18. Sunnen, Gerard, op. cit.
  19. Gorbunov, S.N. et. al., "The Use of Ozone in the Treatment of Children Suffered Due to Different Catastrophies", Ozone in Medicine: Proceedings Eleventh Ozone World Congress (Stamford, CT: International Ozone Association, Pan American Committee, 1993) pp. M-3-31-33
© 1995 by Nathaniel Altman

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