I’m sorry, but I’ll never get tired of mocking the “one weird trick” advertisements.
Here’s a puzzler for you though. Why do people living at higher altitudes tend to live longer, with significantly lower rates of cancer than people at sea level?
If you’re familiar with the concept of the blue zones, five areas of the world where people live the longest, you may have noticed that most aren’t at sea level, and in fact many are quite mountainous. Weinberg et. al. (1987) looked at rates of death from cancer and heart disease as it correlates to altitude and found that altitude seemed to more than make up for increases in radiation you have at higher altitudes to the extent that the reduced oxygen at altitude may in fact be protective against those causes of death.
But wait you say, isn’t oxygen good for you? Don’t you want as much oxygen as possible?
The answer it seems, contrary to pop belief, is not exactly.
Oxygen, you’ll remember from basic chemistry, is an oxidizer. If you have a fire burning, and you blow oxygen on it, you get a much, much hotter fire. In fact, with acetylene or propane as the fuel and oxygen as the oxidizer you can cut through inch thick steel with just a flame.
Controlled oxidation, such as the oxidation of some fatty acids in the body is an important chemical process that is necessary and helpful. Uncontrolled oxidation, not such a good thing. Rust on a car for example is a form of runaway oxidation. Anti-oxidants, such as those found in fruits and vegetables, slow down this oxidative process.
But of course, as with anything in the body, it’s never as simple as good and bad. A decade or two ago the popular idea was that the more antioxidants you could get the better. More research was done and we realized that overdoing the antioxidants actually caused more cancer. Over and over again we learn that these single-factor interventions don’t tell the whole story, but every time we think this time is different.
So that brings us back to living at higher altitudes with lower oxygen fractions. At this point, all we know for sure is that it looks like living at higher altitude may decrease your risk of cancer or dying from all causes. But, we can’t say with certainty that it’s because of the oxygen. Maybe it’s just more pretty scenery.
Maybe, or maybe there’s some convincing biochemistry that the reduced oxidative stress helps to live longer.
So what can you do other than moving to the mountains? Increasing carbon dioxide production in your body is one way. You can do that by increasing your overall energy input and output. John Berardi coined the term G-flux in the late 200s, and my friend Jade Teta calls it EMEM – “Eat More, Exercise More”. Essentially instead of trying to reduce your caloric intake you actually want to try to increase the amount of energy you can take in and subsequently utilize. Aside from increasing carbon dioxide levels this is also going to increase overall tissue turnover which has every indication of being beneficial to health, body composition, and performance.