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GIFT GUIDE : THE HEALTHY SKEPTIC

Wise Men won't be bringing these

You Can't Put A Price On Health, But You Can Wrap Up The Best Of Intentions This Season

December 12, 2011|Chris Woolston
  • O2-B Personal Oxygen Bar concentrates natural air until it contains about twice the normal level of oxygen.
O2-B Personal Oxygen Bar concentrates natural air until it contains about…

Health and fitness products can make great holiday gifts. A thoughtfully chosen natural remedy or exercise device sends all of the right messages: I care about you, I want you to feel your best and I don't want to risk guessing wrong about your sweater size.

But if you give a health product that doesn't live up to its claims, you end up sending a different message: I didn't do my homework, sorry for the disappointment and, hey, better luck next year.

In an annual tradition, the Healthy Skeptic has gathered several items that could conceivably end up on a gift list. These products -- a portable oxygen bar, an ionized golf shirt, a beverage that supposedly encourages sleep and a lamp that allegedly chases away the winter blues -- would all look great covered in festive wrapping, but it's the inside that really counts. On closer inspection, the Healthy Skeptic must repeat the advice he has given in past years: Giver beware.

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O2-B Personal Oxygen Bar

Oxygen is the ultimate energizer. The gas fuels every cell in the body, giving you the power to move, think and, with luck, finally make your home presentable for out-of-town relatives.

At a time when many of us are looking for an extra energy kick, it's perhaps not surprising that oxygen has become a sought-after commodity. Oxygen bars -- establishments where you can pop down a few bucks to breathe concentrated O2 -- have opened up across the country. If someone on your gift list isn't into the bar scene, you might consider giving an oxygen delivery device that can be used at home.

One example is the O2-B Personal Oxygen Bar from O2 Innovations, based in Pittston, Pa. Unlike the oxygen tanks used by people with emphysema or other lung diseases, this device concentrates natural air until it contains 40% oxygen, which is about twice the normal level. The oxygen-enriched air is delivered though a headset that looks a little bit like a hands-free microphone. Users are instructed to breathe the oxygen-heavy air for up to 30 minutes at a time.

The O2-B bar is available at health spas, chiropractors' offices and even some ski resorts. If you're looking for a high-end gift, you can buy one online (complete with relaxation CDs) for a little less than $600.

The claims: The O2 Innovation website says that the portable oxygen bar "gives you the energy you've been craving" and "replenishes and renews your spirit." A video says that the oxygen bar would be the perfect solution to afternoon drowsiness at the office.

Because of air pollution, most people don't get all of the oxygen they really need, says Maryrose Snopkowski, marketing representative for O2 Innovations. According to Snopkowski, just 10 or 20 minutes with the machine can restore their missing oxygen and recharge their bodies.

"I use it all the time," she says. "It's a cool little machine."

The bottom line: Oxygen undoubtedly delivers energy, but it's highly unlikely that anyone with healthy lungs would get a lift from an oxygen bar, says Janet Pierce, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. "If you're a healthy person, the hemoglobin in your blood cells is already 98% saturated with oxygen. Getting any more isn't going to make a difference."

Pierce put oxygen -- and her own skepticism -- to the test in a 2011 study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Thirty young, healthy volunteers spent 10 minutes attached to an oxygen bar. Before and after their oxygen infusion, they filled out questionnaires designed to assess stress, energy and relaxation levels. The oxygen had no measurable effect.

Pierce says there's a quicker way to pack a little more oxygen into your blood cells: "Just take a deep breath and hold it for three seconds." You may not feel any more energized, she says, but you can take pleasure in knowing that you saved $600. On the downside, it's hard to gift-wrap a deep breath.

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Energy Athletic golf shirt

Whether they're regulars on the PGA Tour or hacks at the local par 3 course, golfers are always looking for an edge, especially if it doesn't involve any actual effort. Ionized bracelets and necklaces that supposedly improve swings, balance and stamina have become popular accessories on golf courses. Now there's a new frontier in golf apparel: ionized golf shirts.

The fabric in the Energy Athletic golf shirt, endorsed by pro golfer and 12-time PGA Tour winner Paul Azinger, is supposedly embedded with an electromagnetic field of negatively charged ions. The shirts, available in several colors, cost about $70 for the short-sleeved version and $80 for the long-sleeved garment.

The claims: A news release announcing the launch of the shirts says the "intelligent fabric stimulates the delivery of oxygen to the muscles through the bloodstream and brain, which is designed to provide golfers with increased energy, strength, focus and accelerated recovery."

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