Ohio-based ‘oxygenated’ water brand 02 Natural Recovery – which has picked up a strong following online, and in CrossFit gyms, yoga studios and other fitness outlets – is expanding its presence in grocery stores including Kroger and Whole Foods in 2019. But is the science behind hyper-oxygenated water solid?
Skeptics of hyper-oxygenated water – which has extra oxygen added before canning or bottling, and claims a variety of health benefits – have questions on three counts.
First, how is oxygen added to the water, is it retained in the water, and do products on shelf actually contain the oxygen levels stated on pack?
Second, ask the skeptics, how do we know that ingested oxygen (ie. from drinking oxygenated water, which goes into our GI tract) gets into the bloodstream, given that the standard mechanism for oxygenating the blood is breathing (whereby our lungs transfer oxygen from the air we breathe into our blood)?
Third, if the extra oxygen does get into the bloodstream, what peer-reviewed science demonstrates that it confers a health benefit?
O2 Natural Recovery is not making any claims about enhanced athletic performance
Launched by CrossFit enthusiast Dave Colina and medical doctor Daniel J. Kim, M.D. in 2014, O2 Natural Recovery is an oxygenated beverage claimed to contain 7x more oxygen than tap water, 2.5x more electrolytes than leading sports drinks, and 140mg of caffeine (in selected SKUs), with no artificial flavors, sweeteners or preservatives.
Unlike some other super-oxygenated waters, however, O2 Natural Recovery is not making claims about enhanced athletic performance, stressed Colina (CEO), who said 02 Natural Recovery has developed a patent-pending approach for sealing the added oxygen in its 16oz cans.*
“The claims about athletic performance are bogus – there is no science that supports that,” added Colina, who references a single animal study to support claims that ingested oxygen can get into the portal vein (a vein conveying blood to the liver from the spleen, stomach, pancreas, and intestines).
Studies suggest drinking hyper-oxygenated water could help your body eliminate alcohol more rapidly
However, there are studies** documenting an increase in the rate at which the liver processes alcohol in monkeys and humans following ingestion of “super-oxygenated fluids,” he said, and argues that drinking hyper-oxygenated water could help your body eliminate alcohol more rapidly.
So there’s some data suggesting that hyper-oxygenated water might speed recovery from a hangover, but what is the evidence that it can help with recovery after exercise, by, for example, helping clear lactate more quickly than your liver otherwise might?
According to Colina, this is more a hypothesis than provable fact right now.
He added: “I’m not really comfortable tying our product to the studies on lactate clearance just yet, because we have some questions with respect to how they were conducted, but two studies (click HERE) in particular definitely have us intrigued.
“Our hypothesis is that our product can help flush out toxins released by burning fat during exercise as well as clear lactate faster based on lots of anecdotal evidence as well as these studies, but check back with me in a quarter or two once we’ve had a chance to get our own clinical research together.
“It’s just anecdotal, but customers buying our products say that drinking 02 after they work out means they feel less sore the next day, so that’s why we are so interested in exploring this further in 2019.”
We’ve targeted recovery as the proposition for the brand
He added: “We’ve targeted recovery as the proposition for the brand, particularly exercise recovery, but there are people that buy our product because they are hungover. I don’t know what percentage of our sales, but it’s probably well in to the double-digits.
“Your liver needs oxygen to process toxins and it gets most of its blood supply from the portal vein, which is only about two-thirds saturated in oxygen, whereas the remaining blood in your circulatory system is fully saturated with oxygen, so the only way to get more oxygen to your liver is by drinking it.”
Meanwhile, studies have shown no measurable increase in the elimination rate of ethanol where pure oxygen is administered to animals via inhalation, rather than ingestion, he said.
“So breathing more deeply or standing in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber isn’t going to do anything [to help your liver process toxins more rapidly], but drinking more oxygen might.”
The go to market strategy
So where is 02 Natural Recovery manufactured?
“It’s difficult to manufacture a legitimately oxygenated product at scale because frankly it’s really hard to do,” claimed Colina, which might explain why there are still relatively few brands in this space, he said. “We’ve tested [competitor] products that have not shown any higher level of dissolved oxygen than standard water.
“We were lucky that we found a co-packer on the west coast that was already making oxygenated water in 16oz cans and we were basically able to plug into his system pretty easily.”
As for the go to market strategy, Colina’s initial target audience was CrossFit gyms and power yoga studios, where he quickly gained traction, followed by Whole Foods, which was a great testing ground, he said. “We’re expanding to the full mid-Atlantic region of Whole Foods in March next year, and after a pilot in 100 Kroger stores in Ohio earlier this year, we quickly became the number one or two selling products in our category of natural energy, so we are expanding very very aggressively with Kroger in 2019 as well.”
The direct to consumer business is also gathering pace, where a large percentage of customers use the subscription option and buy regularly, said Colina, who has raised a couple of friends and family rounds and did his first larger raise with angel investors this year.
Anthony Almada: The branding refers to athletic and muscular performance recovery, but the data does not support this
Anthony Almada, president and CSO at nutritional technology consultancy IMAGINutrition, told FoodNavigator-USA that if people are feeling any benefit from drinking 02 Natural Recovery it is most likely from the caffeine (two of the four SKUs have 140mg of caffeine).
“The website and the branding refers to athletic and muscular performance recovery, but the data [they cite, which is on ethanol processing in the liver] does not support this. This is not being pitched to drinkers, it’s being pitched at the CrossFit community.”
He also noted that the Finnish researchers who conducted the 1978 study on monkeys cited by Colina (which suggested that super-oxygenated water could eliminate ethanol more rapidly) published a human study a year later that showed no effect, with the researchers noting that, “In humans, the elimination rate of ethanol was not changed by oxygenated drinks.”
However, a study on 15 human subjects published in the journal Alcohol in 2013, indicated that the combination of drinking dissolved oxygen in alcoholic beverages and oxygenated drinking water accelerated the decrease in blood alcohol content after consuming a large amount of alcohol.
The researchers did not test the effect of drinking ‘normal’ (ie. un-oxygenated) alcohol followed by oxygenated water, adding: “We postulate that highly oxygenated water augments the effect of oxygen in the alcoholic beverage in alcohol elimination. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the supportive effect of ingesting additional oxygenated water after heavy drinking of normal alcoholic beverages.”
Asked about the two lactate clearance studies Colina found ‘intriguing,” Almada said: “The first study did not measure lactate clearance; they measured only changes in blood lactate, an indirect measure plagued by misinterpretations. The second study used a water that was processed specifically and has a very different electrolyte profile; it did not mention the word ‘lactate’ anywhere in the article.”
In this 2010 study, a team of Korean researchers showed increased rates of ethanol elimination after ingestion of superoxygenated alcohol at 20ppm and 25ppm as compared to a control at 8ppm oxygen (tap water typically has c.7-8 ppm oxygen).
O2 has an oxygen content more than twice that of the most highly oxygenated solution in the study above, notes the company.