Elemental damage: When oxygen makes you short of breath

Written by: Jennifer Baker

Edited by: Christina Del Greco, Jessica Li, and Andrew Alvarez

Illustrated by: Katie Bonefas

Take a deep breath in … (it’s okay, I’ll wait) … aaaannnnndddd release. Feel better? While breathing deeply is relaxing and has psychological benefits, it also has a fundamental physiological function.

Unless you are reading this atop Mount Everest where gas concentrations deviate from those at sea level (congrats on your successful ascent!), about 21% of the air you just inhaled is oxygen, a vital resource your cells need to survive. This oxygen is used by cells all over your body for chemical processes such as generating energy for cellular functions like building proteins, fixing cell membranes, and repairing DNA.

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