Healthcare professionals have known for decades that there is a negative correlation between lung cancer and altitude; the higher the place you live, the less likely you are to get lung cancer.
But until now, they never knew why.
Then last month brought the news that a major study—which corrected for all kinds of factors like age, education, race, gender, occupation, weight, alcohol use, meat consumption and more—identified the main factor as oxygen.
Now, that’s not a lot. Smoking is still far and away a bigger factor in your risk of developing lung cancer. But it’s something. And it makes sense!
Oxygen is what energizes our cells, and like any fuel, it creates waste products, notable free radicals that can mutate DNA, increase cancer risk and speed tumor growth.
Furthermore, this finding supports, tangentially, the free-radical theory of aging—that organisms age over time because of damage from free radicals, molecules that have unpaired valence electrons (frequently oxygen).
Drug companies already do a booming business in antioxidants targeting people’s growing awareness of the risk of free radicals, and it will be interesting to see how this new knowledge of oxygen’s role in lung cancer will be incorporated into our health routines.