Imagine our world if oxygen suddenly disappeared. Life as we know it would end. However, there are two other important breathing gases that are just as essential to life as oxygen. They are carbon dioxide and nitric oxide.
Breathing happens roughly 20,000 times a day and it impacts the levels of these three important gases in our body. Breathe incorrectly and the balance of these gases changes, causing problems. Let's take a look at the role each of these gases play in the body and how breathing impacts them.
Essential Gas #1: Oxygen
Oxygen is one of the two main fuels of the body. At the cellular level, oxygen combines with glucose, from the food we eat, to create the energy that moves our muscles, powers our brains and enables our organs to do what they do.
Oxygen is not available inside the body so it must be brought in from the outside. Twenty-one percent of the air we breathe is oxygen. Our lungs are designed to strip oxygen from the air, making it available for use in the body. Once extracted from the air, oxygen is transported in our blood and released into working muscles and organs.
The medulla oblongata, the respiratory center of the brain, regulates how much air we breathe. If we are low on oxygen, it automatically increases the volume of air we breathe.
Essential Gas #2: Carbon Dioxide
Most people remember their high school biology teacher saying carbon dioxide is a poisonous gas, the exhaust of the body removed by breathing out. Unfortunately, your biology teacher was passing on a myth, which could not be further from the truth.
We could not live more than a minute or two without carbon dioxide. It is essential to life. Without it our lungs would shut down, our brains would not function properly, our blood pressure would go through the roof and we would be constantly sick.
Carbon dioxide plays four very important roles in the body including:
The air we breathe contains 0.04% carbon dioxide and our body needs about 5% carbon dioxide to support the four functions noted above. The body produces carbon dioxide through muscle and organ action, the by product, or so called exhaust, of cellular energy production.
Carbon dioxide is removed from the body when we breathe out. If we breathe out too much, too much carbon dioxide is blown off. This reduces available carbon dioxide to perform the four functions noted above.
The medulla oblongata also regulates the amount of carbon dioxide in the body and changes our breathing if there is too much or too little carbon dioxide. However, unlike oxygen, the medulla can become intolerant to carbon dioxide, increasing our breathing to get rid of what it thinks is too much carbon dioxide. This reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the body to unnatural and unhealthy levels.
Essential Gas #3: Nitric Oxide
First, to clear up one possible misconception, nitric oxide is not the laughing gas administered to relax you during dental procedures. That's nitrous oxide, a very different annimal.
Nitric oxide is not present in the air we breath and is produced in several different places in the body including the brain, blood vessel walls, intestines and sinuses. Nitric oxide, much like carbon dioxide, is a dilator especially in the arteries. Nitric oxide relaxes and expands arteries enabling better blood flow. With increased blood flow, blood pressure is lowered and the heart doesn't have to work as hard. Nitric oxide is also good for male sexual health as increased penal blood improves errections.
Nitric oxide is a key part of the communication system between the neurons of the brain. Our thinking processes slow and "brain fog" develops.
Nitric oxide plays an important role in strengthening our immune system. It kills many bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Too much breathing disrupts the flow of nitric oxide in the body, flushing it from the sinus cavities before it enters the body. Keeping your breathing small and relaxed helps improve nitric oxide distribution.
Oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide are essential to life and play major roles in several body processes. Breathing regulates the amount of these gases in the body and good health occurs when correct levels of these gases are maintained. Remember, it's all about the breathe.