Ozone therapy is a form of complementary medicine reputed to enhance immune system functioning. The theory behind its alleged therapeutic benefits resides in the belief that ozone, a gaseous allotrope of oxygen, may prevent or reverse disease by helping the body to better transport and metabolize oxygen. Ozone therapy is also thought to deter infectious disease by neutralizing invading bacterial enzymes that are responsible for viral infection and replication in white blood cells. While this therapy may sound like a by-product of a growing trend toward a holistic approach to healing, it’s actually been practiced since the mid-19th century. However, the debate regarding its effectiveness is likely to continue for many years to come.
In consideration of the merits of ozone therapy, the medical community has recognized the antiviral and antibacterial properties of this gas for some time. In fact, it has long been used to sterilize surgical instruments. During World War II, a topical formulation containing suspended ozone was often administered to the wounds of soldiers to deter infection. In more recent years, veterinarians use intravenous fluid ozone preparations to treat infection and decrease inflammation in animals. In Germany, ozone generators are standard pieces of equipment in ambulances, which many claim has resulted in a lower occurrence of severe or permanent paralysis in stroke patients.
Skeptics of ozone therapy argue that the evidence supporting its therapeutic benefits is largely anecdotal, and point to the fact that ozone is a toxic gas classified as an environmental pollutant which presents health risks to those with cardiopulmonary and respiratory disorders. The strongest point of view against this therapy is a concern that ozone readily degrades into unstable oxygen atoms that will seek to gain electrons by pairing, or oxidizing, with other molecules. Proponents of this form of therapy, however, maintain that ozone atoms retain their ion characteristics rather than behaving like free radicals. This means they will target and oxidize with molecules that lack glutathione peroxidase and other protective enzymes and destroy them, namely those found in foreign bacterial and viral cells.
Treatment with ozone involves very specific dosage concentrations and various methods of administration. These include autohemotherapy, or the reintroduction of ozone-infused blood, rectal, vaginal, or auricular insufflations, intramuscular injections, and ozonated water or steam. Topical applications consist of ozonated ointments or salves made from olive, hemp, or avocado oil.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly prohibits claims that ozone therapy can prevent or cure any disease. However, the FDA permits the use of ozone as a germicide in the food processing industry and numerous states have adopted legislation making the medical use of ozone legal. Ozone therapy is widely practiced in most European and Mediterranean countries.