Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow has dabbled in many alternative therapies but even she admits that blowing ozone gas up her rectum is “pretty weird.” She also said that “it’s been very helpful” on Monday’s episode of the podcast The Art of Being Well.
Many would agree that so-called rectal ozone insufflation therapy is unusual, but not so many concur that it is helpful, at least medically speaking. Several experts spoke up on Twitter in response to the Goop founder’s revelation, including Dr. Kaveh Hoda, a gastroenterologist in Northern California who hosts the medical podcast House of Pod who commented, “please don’t get ‘rectal ozone therapy.’”
Meanwhile, the FDA, which has not approved the therapy, issued a warning in 2019 that concluded that “ozone is a toxic gas with no known useful medical application in specific, adjunctive, or preventive therapy.”
The therapy has been touted by some as a way to fight viruses and inflammation, support the immune system, improve blood circulation, speed healing, and more — not just in humans but in pets also.
What is ozone therapy?
Ozone is a combination of three oxygen atoms that most of us associate with the ozone layer in the atmosphere. In the upper stratosphere, ozone can block harmful ultraviolet rays, which is a good thing. Closer to the Earth’s surface, though, it can cause smog, which can damage our airways.
Ozone is most stable in gas form but can also exist in liquid and solid forms, where it is highly combustible.
Only ozone gas is used for these supposedly therapeutic purposes. An ozone-generating device is used to create medical-grade versions of the gas.
Not only can it be blown up your rectum, but it can also be introduced through your ears or vagina, applied under a covering to your skin (an “ozone sauna”), mixed in with your blood, injected or ingested (a mixture of ozone and oil or water).
However, inhaling it is highly dangerous.
Are there benefits of ozone therapy?
Once introduced into your body, ozone supposedly has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which may make it beneficial for chronic diseases, although the jury is still out, according to Dr. Eric Ascher, a family medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Small studies and case reports have looked into the effectiveness of the therapies, although the Cleveland Clinic calls the evidence “low-quality and limited.”
The Egypt-based authors of one paper published in 2021 said one or two sessions of rectal ozone therapy seemed safe and may have helped blood oxygen in two patients with COVID-19, although the study did not include placebos or other controls.
Another study of nine COVID-19 patients found that ozone-supplemented blood transfusions (the patient’s blood was drawn, treated with ozone, and returned to their body) seemed to help speed recovery from pneumonia.
However, in 2020, a federal court in Texas barred a health and wellness center from promoting ozone therapy to treat COVID-19, labeling it “fraudulent promotion of supposed COVID-19 treatments that do no good and that could be harmful.”
“There is some proposed theoretical benefit from it but it does not look like great science,” Hoda said.
“It is hard to quantify exactly how beneficial it is,” Ascher said.
Is ozone therapy safe?
Along with efficacy, the safety of ozone therapy is still an open question. According to Ascher, the rectal delivery may cause bloating and fatigue, as well as stomach and rectal discomfort. More troubling is the risk of air embolisms (a blood clot in your lungs) when inhaling. Inhaling may also cause pulmonary edema (when your lungs fill with fluid), Hoda said.
People who have worked with ozone (when using cleaning supplies or working in wastewater treatment plants, among other industries) have experienced trouble breathing, coughing, and headaches. Long-term exposure may even lead to asthma, according to the CDC.
One problem is that, to be effective — especially in killing germs — ozone therapy has to be highly concentrated, making it dangerous, according to the FDA. “It can be toxic to human cells, potentially causing damage to the mucous lining of the colon,” Hoda said. “There’s also a good chance it could affect the gut microbiome and that’s probably not something you want to do willy-nilly.”
Ascher also recommends not undergoing ozone therapy in some of the very situations it is supposed to be useful: if you’re fighting an infection or your body is under stress.
“Your body can be thrown into a more severe infection, treatable, but uncomfortable, called a Herxheimer reaction,” he said. “You should also avoid it if you’re pregnant or have a history of heart disease.”