Low blood oxygen levels can occur for many reasons, from living at a high altitude to having a congenital disorder. Whether a vitamin will help increase oxygen in the blood depends on the cause of your low blood oxygen level.
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In general, you can maintain healthy blood oxygen levels by getting enough of the nutrients that support optimal functioning of red blood cells.
It's unlikely that a vitamin can increase blood oxygen levels. But a healthy balanced diet filled with an adequate supply of essential nutrients may ensure that your blood oxygen levels stay within a normal range.
Low Blood Oxygen Level
Blood oxygen is a measure of the oxygen saturation in your blood and how well your lungs are working to deliver oxygen throughout your body. Blood oxygen level also involves the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your blood, as well as pH balance — the balance of acids and bases.
Low blood oxygen is referred to as hypoxemia. It's measured by taking a blood sample from an artery — called an arterial blood gas test — or using a small device that clips onto your finger called a pulse oximeter. A normal result from an arterial blood gas test is between 75 and 100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). A normal pulse oximeter result is between 95 and 100 percent.
Low blood oxygen may occur for many reasons, including:
- Congenital heart disease
- Congenital heart defects in children
- ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome)
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Interstitial lung disease
- Medications that may depress breathing
- Sleep apnea
- Pulmonary edema
- Collapsed lung
- Pulmonary fibrosis
According to the Cleveland Clinic, high altitudes can also cause hypoxemia, when there is not enough oxygen in the environment. People who exercise or do other strenuous activities at high altitudes are at greater risk.
Symptoms of hypoxemia depend on the cause and the severity of the condition but may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fast heartbeat
- Bluish tinge to skin, lips and fingernails
Read more: 4 Food Tips to Help Increase Red Blood Cells
Anemia and Low Blood Oxygen
If you have any symptoms of low blood oxygen — especially if you have one of the conditions associated with it — it's important to see your doctor for a treatment plan. Taking vitamin supplements isn't likely to make much of a difference in many of the causes of low blood oxygen. The exception is anemia.
Anemia is a blood disorder in which there are not enough blood cells or when the red blood cells don't function properly. This prohibits the red blood cells from carrying enough oxygen to the body's tissues. There are several types of anemia caused by different conditions. The types of anemia that may be treated with vitamin supplements are those that result from a vitamin deficiency, typically involving vitamin B12 and another B vitamin, folate.
Deficiencies in vitamin B12 and folate are called megaloblastic anemias. In this type of anemia, the blood cells develop abnormally. They are very large and oval, not round like normal, healthy blood cells. This causes the bone marrow to decrease production of red blood cells, and these unhealthy blood cells often die more quickly than normal cells.
Symptoms of megaloblastic anemia vary, but they may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- Weak muscles
- Smooth and tender tongue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Bleeding gums
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Decreased appetite
Anemia can develop in anyone, but it is most common in people who:
- Eat a poor diet
- Eat a restrictive diet, such as vegans
- Have lower digestive tract disorders such as Crohn's and celiac diseases, which interfere with nutrient absorption
- Have a weakened stomach lining
- Lack intrinsic factor, a substance secreted by the stomach that enables vitamin B12 absorption
- Take certain medications that may impair absorption of folate
Increase Oxygen in Blood
Increasing low blood oxygen level due to anemia involves repairing the nutrient deficiency. In most cases, this involves increasing dietary intake of foods rich in the missing nutrient or taking a supplement — or both.
Either way, you need to be sure to get at least the amount recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Medicine. These are the amounts deemed adequate to prevent deficiency and support good health in the general population.
For vitamin B12, the recommended dietary intake (RDI) is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) per day for adults, 2.6 mcg per day for pregnant people and 2.8 mcg per day for people who are breastfeeding. For folate, the RDI is measured in what's called micrograms of dietary folate equivalents. For most adults, that RDI is 400 mcg DFE. Pregnant people should aim for 600 mcg DFE and breastfeeding people should aim for 500 mcg DFE.
There aren't any specific oxygen-rich foods you should eat; rather, you should focus on food sources that are rich in the particular nutrient you are deficient in. This will help repair your anemia and increase oxygen in blood.
To get more vitamin B12 in your diet, increase your intake of:
There are very few vegan sources of B12, which is the reason why anemia is prevalent among people who eschew animal foods. Fortified cereals are highly bioavailable sources of B12 for vegans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Nutritional yeast may also contain adequate levels of B12.
Increase your folate intake by eating more:
- Dark, leafy greens
The NIH reports that the richest food sources of folate include spinach, liver, asparagus and Brussels sprouts.
Read more: The Best Time to Take Vitamin B-12
Do You Need a Supplement?
Whether or not you need to take a supplement depends on the cause and severity of your deficiency. People with mild deficiencies may be able to simply increase their dietary intake of the nutrient. In cases of more severe deficiencies, supplements are often required for a period of time.
Vegans and people with medical conditions may need to take supplements long-term in order to prevent anemia and increase oxygen in the blood. But it's best to consult with your doctor before deciding to supplement. In many cases, taking high-dose supplements aren't worth the money. In the case of the water-soluble B vitamins, getting more than your body needs won't result in any added benefits, since any excess is excreted from your body via urine.
If you see specific claims about supplements that oxygenate blood using a proprietary blend of nutrients, be wary. These often contain a blend of B vitamins that, while helpful in the case of a deficiency, aren't proven to increase energy in healthy populations, according to NIH. These supplements can be exorbitant, and the money would be better spent on high-quality, nutrient-rich foods.
Correction: An earlier version of this article included the wrong unit of measurement for the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12.
- MedlinePlus: "Blood Oxygen Level"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hypoxemia"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Hypoxemia"
- Mayo Clinic: "Vitamin Deficiency Anemia"
- StatPearls: "Megaloblastic Anemia"
- Dana-Farber Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center: "Megaloblastic Anemia and Pernicious Anemia"
- National Academies of Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin B12"
- NIH: "Folate"
- Nutrition and Metabolic Insights: "Relationship Between Urinary Concentrations of Nine Water-Soluble Vitamins and Their Vitamin Intakes in Japanese Adult Males"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.