|Heidi Moretti, MS, RD|
Functional Medicine Nutritionist
Herbal Medicine Expert
In this article: learn how to increase blood oxygen levels naturally using supplements, foods, herbs and other evidence based methods.
How to Increase Blood Oxygen Levels With Supplements
Every cell in our body needs oxygen to properly function. As a part of this mechanism, certain vitamins and minerals are required to deliver oxygen to the cells.
Ideally you should get these nutrients from the foods you eat. Some people however, have low levels and may need to take supplements.
1. Make Sure You Get Enough Iron
Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body.
It is important to make sure you meet your daily requirements of Iron from your diet, and take iron supplements if needed. Below are some of the best ways to get iron from your diet, and a few important facts you should know about iron supplements.
Eat Iron Rich Foods
The best iron rich foods include: oysters, chicken liver, beef liver, bison, and beef. Plant-based sources include pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, parsley, spirulina, and spinach.
If you eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, you may want to look more carefully into your iron levels. The research suggests that plant-based sources of iron (nonheme iron) don’t absorb as well as animal sources. One method that can improve the iron absorption, is to eat vitamin C rich foods with foods that contain iron.
Iron Supplements: More is Not Better
Despite eating iron-rich foods, some people may still need iron supplements. Risk factors for iron deficiencies include vegan or vegetarian diets, pregnancy, heavy periods, digestive issues, blood loss and certain conditions.
I know this first hand. My iron deficiency went for decades unchecked. Since iron in its storage form (ferritin) is not routinely screened when you go to the doctor, low iron levels may be overlooked.
I remember this very clearly. Being low in iron affected my energy levels to a point that going up the stairs made my tired.
Taking excessive amount of iron from supplements on the other hand, is not a good solution either, as too much iron can cause issues as well. For this reason, if you suspect you have low iron levels, go and see your doctor and have your levels tested. This way you know if you need iron supplements and the right amount for you.
Iron Supplements Side Effects
If you consider taking iron supplements, go for natural sources. Synthetic iron supplements are well known for their side effects, especially digestive issues such as constipation.
A good example of a natural iron supplement is Iron Fuzion made from organic Murraya koenigii leaves (Curry tree).
2. Cordyceps: The Oxygen Mushroom
I find the evidence on cordyceps medicinal mushroom fascinating. Especially its ability to improve oxygen use in the body.
In fact, some researchers believe that cordyceps may also be useful in cases of Hypoxia, a condition where there’s reduced supply of oxygen in the tissues to sustain normal functions.
As with all herbs and medicinal mushrooms, the source matters. If you consider cordyceps, it is best to get yours for an organic source that guarantees it is grown under the best conditions, including third party testing.
A good example is cordyceps by medicinal foods.
Chlorella, Chlorophyll & Oxygen
In my top detox foods article, we discussed how this dark green nutritious single-celled algae can bind and help to remove heavy metals from the body.
The connection to oxygen? According to research, it turned out that chlorella can also help to increase oxygen saturations in the blood. A clinical study showed that 4 weeks of chlorella use improved oxygen lung capacity during exercise in young men and women.
I am pretty sure we’ll see more studies in the upcoming years that will further explore the effect of chlorella on oxygen uptake and exercise performance.
Chlorella is also one of the highest natural sources of chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their dark green color. Chlorophyll shares many similarities to hemoglobin, the red blood that carries oxygen in the blood.
How to Increase Blood Oxygen Levels with Foods
Diet, I know. Why can’t we just get that magic pill that makes everything right? Well, until that day comes, the foods we eat and avoid still play a key role in every single aspect of our health.
Below are some of the key oxygen boosting foods you can easily introduce into your diet:
Foods That Increase Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide (NO) is a molecule that is naturally produced by the body, that plays a key role in vasodilation.
Simply put, nitric oxide relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels, causing them to widen and increase circulation. Your blood moves freely and can deliver oxygen and nutrients to your whole body more efficiently.
This is a known mechanism that many pre workout supplements target, by using ingredients that increase nitric oxide in the body.
Eating certain foods that are high in dietary nitrates, can help to increase your nitric oxide levels as well. One you eat these foods, your body can convert nitrates into nitric oxide.
In addition to its high nitrates content, beetroot is rich in red and yellow pigments called betalains. According to research, betalains can increase nitric oxide availability in the blood and subsequently increase blood flow and oxygen delivery.
Multiple human studies suggest that beetroot juice can increase nitric oxide in the body, promote oxygenation of muscle tissue and support mitochondrial function.
And it doesn’t take long for you to feel the effect. One study that had recreational runners take beetroot juice for 3 days, found it was able to increase maximum oxygen uptake and peak speed.
Other good sources of dietary nitrates include green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce and arugula.
Raw Cacao & Dark Chocolate
If you need a reason to add dark chocolate to your diet, here’s a good one. In addition to their many health benefits, the flavonoids in cacao can also increase nitric oxide in the body in as little as 4 days.
Not all chocolate products are made the same, though.
Chocolate is made from the beans and seeds of the cacao tree. Most of the chocolates you see at the stores are heavily processed and have very little cacao content.
In its natural unprocessed form, raw cacao is a very good source of minerals, antioxidants, and other health promoting nutrients. So for best results, look for raw organic cacao.
A good example is raw chocolate lover bar.
Another easy option is to add raw cacao powder to your smoothies, nut milks or pre workout shakes. For an example of a homemade raw cacao recipe, see: Low Carb Chocolate Mousse.
Avoid Processed Carbs
Processed carbs create more carbon dioxide and as a result, less oxygen is available. These unhealthy food options can also lead to the infamous sugar crashes and make you feel tired and fatigued.
How to Increase Blood Oxygen Levels With Lifestyle
Lifestyle can play a big role in your blood oxygen levels. The more you can stay active and have a healthy lifestyle, the better your body will use oxygen. As they say, use it or lose it.
Here are a few evidence based methods you can do to increase oxygen:
Exercise & Oxygen Levels
When you exercise, your lungs bring more oxygen into the body. This is essential in order to provide energy and remove carbon dioxide, the waste product created when you produce energy. The heart then pumps the oxygen to the muscles to support the exercise.
And we are talking about a lot of oxygen. Depending on the exercise, the increase in oxygen levels can be 100-fold higher than resting values in the contracting skeletal muscle.
With that said, the best exercise to increase blood oxygen levels may be different according to your fitness levels and personal preferences. Choose an activity that you love that you can easily incorporate in your daily routine so it is sustainable. If you have a medical condition, always speak with your doctor before.
Does Deep Breathing Increase Oxygen Blood?
Looking for a safe and effective way to increase blood oxygen levels that doesn’t require you to eat, drink or even exercise?
Now I am not trying to encourage people not to be active, but the evidence on deep breathing potential benefits to our health and life is truly remarkable.
According to research, slow deep breathing techniques such as ones you may see in traditional yoga practice, can improve oxygen saturation in the blood, lower blood pressure, and even reduce anxiety.
And here’s the big difference compared to exercise. Both exercise and deep breathing can increase blood oxygen levels. With deep breathing, however, you increase your oxygen saturation but not your heart rate.
Indoor Plants to Increase Indoor Oxygen
Plants have the ability to remove carbon dioxide and return oxygen to the air. That’s basic photosynthesis, I know.
But did you know that certain plants can also remove toxins from the air?
In fact, NASA has done a lot of the research on plants use as a natural air filtration system to support the long-term space habitation.
I personally have at least 5 plants per room in my home. Beautiful and functional! Since each plant can remove different toxins, it is best to grow multiple species of houseplants.
If this is an option you want to explore, here are the top ten most effective indoor plants that purify the air according to research:
(Thank you NASA!)
- Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
- Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)
- Bamboo palm (Chamaedorea erumpens)
- Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
- Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
- English ivy (Hedera helix)
- Dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii)
- Ficus (Ficus maclellandii ‘alii’)
- Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensis)
- Peace lily (spathiphyllum wallisii).