On the surface, the title of this article my seem counter-intuitive. Folks with asthma say they can't get enough air into their lungs, not that they are breathing too much. And the medical community "thinks" and "believes" in the trigger theory, that allergens are the cause of asthma.
Commonalities Among People With Asthma
As I observe people with asthma, I see similarities in how they breathe, even when they are not having an asthma attack. The same is true in children, teens and adults. These common breathing traits include:
Breathing Too Much Air
The medical definition of normal breathing is 8 to 12 inhalations per minute and bringing in 4 to 6 liters of air with every breath. For those with asthma, it's not uncommon to see them breathing 15 to 20 times per minute and inhaling 15 to 20 liters of air per minute; 3 to 4 times normal. They breathe a lot of air.
The medical community calls breathing too much chronic-hidden hyperventilation (hyperventilation). The other type of hyperventilation, acute hyperventilation, is commonly seen with anxiety or panic attacks. Hyperventilation is known to:
What's The Issue With Hyperventilation and How Does It Cause Asthma?
Hyperventilation, breathing many big deep breaths, expels large quantities of carbon dioxide from the body. Carbon dioxide is one of the four essential gases in the body and plays a huge role in how well or poor many body functions happen including muscle and organ oxygenation. For the person with asthma, the expulsion of carbon dioxide from the lungs is the reason smooth muscle surrounding the airways spasm. Like a brochiodilator, carbon dioxide relaxes these smooth muscles and lessens or stops the asthma attack.
Why Do People With Asthma Breathe Too Much Air
There are 20+ reasons why people hyperventilate, breathe more air than we need to. However, the two prominent ones are:
A diet high in sugary, starchy and processed foods can also result in hyperventilation. With these foods, the body becomes more acidic resulting in a "dumping" of carbon dioxide to balance the acidity. The dumping process is completed through the kidneys and hyperventilation.
When dealing with toddlers with asthma, I will ask the parents to try the "48 hour test"; these children are too young to do my targeted breathing exercises. I ask them to eliminate all sugary, starchy and processed foods for just 48 hours to see what happens. In almost every case, the toddler's asthma symptoms are lessened or go away. I've seen the same result in school-aged children, teens as well as adults.
Changing Your Breathing Can Relieve Asthma
Given hyperventilation is the root cause of most asthma, it makes logical sense that stopping the hyperventilation would relieve asthma symptoms. And I see this result all the time.
There are targeted breathing exercises I teach that rapidly increase carbon dioxide concentrations in the airways and relieve the asthma attack. It's not unusual for these breathing exercises to work within minutes and the first time they are used.
Now, like bronchiodilators, the breathing exercise noted above results in short-term relief of the asthma attack. Other targeted breathing exercises work on the cause of the hyperventilation and retrain the respiratory center of the brain to breathe less air and increase carbon dioxide retention. This process may take a few weeks to a few months depending on the severity of the person's asthma and the client's breathing exercise compliance.
Over the years, first with me, read my story here, and then with many clients, I've watched asthma symptoms quickly decrease and for many eventually disappear. I enjoy celebrating the day clients come off their asthma medications, as many of them do. Changing your breathing and stopping hyperventilation can relieve asthma symptoms. How you breathe really matters.
It's time for a little controversy! How you breathe determines how well your muscles and organs are oxygenated. This is especially true during physical exercise. The answer ... breathe less air! Yup, smaller breaths are essential. Let's take a look at the science.
Introducing the Bohr Effect
In 1904, Dr. Christian Bohr of Denmark published an important study on body gases and the associated physiology. His findings became known as the Bohr Effect.
In this study Dr. Bohr reports on his discovery of an important chemical reaction that must take place to release oxygen from the blood, enabling it to be absorbed by muscle and organ cells. The key findings were:
Carbon Dioxide Retention is Key
So, our old friend carbon dioxide shows up again as an important contributor to how things work in the body. Without retaining proper CO2 levels in the body, proper muscle and organ oxygenation won't occur and the muscle or organ can't do its job as well. If reduced oxygenation for muscles and organs persists over time, the muscle or organ will most likely become weak or diseased.
Retaining CO2 For Cell Oxygenation
The question becomes, how do we retain proper levels of carbon dioxide in the body to maximize muscle and organ oxygenation? How you breathe does the trick.
Carbon dioxide is produced inside the body, the byproduct of busy and active cells; there is not enough CO2 in the air we breath to help. CO2 leaves the body when we exhale. If we breathe large amounts of air in, it makes sense that large amounts of carbon dioxide are leaving the body. Therefore, if we can breathe small amounts of air in , we should only be exhaling a small amount of CO2.
What's The Correct Amount of Air To Breathing In to Avoid CO2 Loss?
The medical community measures breath volume as the number of liters of air inhaled each minute. The term they use is "minute-volumes." A normal minute volume is 4 to 6 liters of air each minute. This is the optimal amount for the body oxygenation and for minimizing CO2 loss. Athletes can get away with a bit higher minute-volumes given increased production of CO2 during exercise.
Unfortunately, given a number of factors (stress and diet) many people in the western world are breathing 15 to 30 liters of air per minute at rest. Athletes and very sick people are most likely towards the upper end of the range. This big breathing is blowing off huge amounts of CO2, which should be used to help muscle and organ oxygenation.
How Do I Change My Breathing and Retain More CO2?
Simply by reducing the amount of air you breathe, moving from 15-30 liters of air per minute to 4-6 liters of air per minute, slightly higher for athletes. And it is very doable through breath training.
Breath training focuses on optimizing breath mechanics (how we breathe), increasing our tolerance of carbon dioxide (keeping it in the body) and reducing the volume of air we breathe. For most people this process can take a few weeks to a few months by employing some very simple breathing exercises practiced every day. Some of these breathing exercises can be integrated into your daily routine.
For most, we are not properly oxygenating our muscles and organs given how we breathe and the loss of carbon dioxide. Changing our breathing mechanics, tolerating CO2 better and breathing less air with every inhale, is the key. How you breathe really matters.
The hormonal and immune systems are the busy beavers of the body. The immune system is constantly checking every nook and cranny of the body for "bad stuff" and then getting rid of it. The hormonal system is constantly sending signals to body cells letting them know what needs to be done.
Carbon Dioxide is the Chief Hormone
Yale Professor Yandell Henderson once said that "Carbon dioxide is the chief hormone of the entire body; it is the only one produced by every tissue and that probably acts on every organ." Simply put, hormones count on carbon dioxide to do their job. The signaling of the pancreas is more efficient when carbon dioxide levels are higher in the body. Sex hormones that drive fertility are more effective when carbon dioxide levels in the body are higher.
Carbon Dioxide and the Immune System
As noted before, carbon dioxide plays the primary role in determining body pH. It's believed that many immune system problems are caused when the body's pH gets out of balance. A good example of this is allergies. When blood pH is off, the immune system's mast cells, the "bad stuff" hunters inside the body, become hyperactive and see innocuous, for most people, things like pollen and animal dander as a problem. In it's state of hyperactivity, the mast cell produces histamines that clog up your nose and make your eyes water to flush away and block the entry of more allergens.
Here in Central Oregon where I live, juniper pollen is a really big deal for many people. When these folks correct their breathing, more carbon dioxide is retained in the body, their blood pH normalizes and the allergic reactions are reduced or disappear. As a result, they get to spend more time playing outdoors in our natural beauty.
How we breathe and our ability to retain carbon dioxide in the body helps manage normal body pH. This in turn manages the sensitivities of the immune and hormonal systems, allowing them to function as expected. How we breathe really matters.
The brain and nervous system are the most fascinating parts of the human body. They are similar to the cpu and communications network found in computer systems, controlling every action that goes on in our body.
The Two Parts of the Nervous System
The nervous system is comprised of two parts, which control body metabolism. The sympathetic enables body processes that make energy, while the parasympathetic system works to conserve energy. And like so many other body systems, both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are sensitive and react to carbon dioxide levels in the body.
Carbon Dioxide Levels Control Nerve Cell Activity
A small drop in carbon dioxide levels affects both parts of the nervous system. A downward change in CO2 levels changes the pH of the nerve cells. At first, the nerve cell becomes more active or perhaps hyperactive. If there's a significant drop in CO2, nerve cells stop working altogether.
The Hyperactive Nerve Cell
Initially when nerve cells become overactive our sensitivity to light and noise increases. Different cultures employ hyperventilation to lower carbon dioxide and increase awareness; a cup of coffee might easily do the trick. Should low CO2 levels become the norm, the nervous system remains in a continual hyperactive state. Insomniacs say the reason they can't sleep is because their mind is going 100 mph. It's known as "monkey mind." When taken to an extreme, we may end up with anxiety problems or perhaps depression.
Control Your Breathing and Control Your Nervousness
Maintaining proper levels of carbon dioxide settles the nerves. It's not unusual for an insomniac to quickly fall asleep and stay asleep with corrected breathing and normal body CO2 levels. Anxiety and depression can also be lessened or relieved in the same way. Many of my clients marvel at the sense of calmness that overcomes them as they correct their breathing and increase body CO2 levels. Even the overly stressed person finds relaxation and calm.
Our nervous system is highly sensitive to changes in our body's chemistry, especially changes in carbon dioxide levels. Restoring and maintaining proper CO2 levels can have a huge impact on your stress, quality of sleep and relaxation. Breathing Really Matters.
Breathing plays an important role in how our body functions. This not only includes the lungs but nearly every organ in your body.
Four different parts of our anatomy, containers or hollow spaces, are heavily affected by how we breathe. These are airways, blood vessels and intestines. Health problems associated with these hollow spaces may present, be relieved or be avoided based on how we breathe.
Smooth Muscle and Hollow Spaces
In the diagram above, you will see tiny bands surrounding the hollow space, in this case an airway. These tiny bands are smooth muscle. Smooth muscle contracts and relaxes to aid the flow of the material inside the hollow space, as in the intestines, or to restrict foreign particle entry, as in the airways.
Smooth Muscle and Carbon Dioxide and Nitric Oxide
Smooth muscle is sensitive to the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO.) When these two gases are present in adequate quantities, smooth muscle relaxes, maximizing the opening of the hollow space. When CO2 and NO are in short-supply, hollow spaces contract and reduce the size of the opening.
Let's take a look at the impact reduced CO2 and NO has on three important hollow spaces in the body and how to reverse the problem.
Hollow Space #1: Airways
Airways are hollow tubes that direct air from your nose or mouth to your aveoli in your lungs. The aveoli are tiny sacs that separate oxygen from the air and push the oxygen into the blood for transport to muscles and organs.
Conventional medicine theorizes sensitive airways are agitated by pollutants or allergens. When this happens smooth muscle contracts to block the passage of the pollutants and allergens. The Carbon Dioxide Theory says dysfunctional breathing "blows-off" carbon dioxide and nitric oxide, causing smooth muscle contraction. Regardless of which theory you subscribe to, the airways are shutting down. If the contraction of the smooth muscle is strong enough, an asthma attack is happening.
Airway contraction may be controlled/reversed using bronchodilator medication. In many but not all cases, the same result can be had by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and nitric oxide in the lungs. In fact, by changing how one breathes, creating higher levels of carbon dioxide and nitric oxide, airway contraction and asthma attacks may be avoided altogether.
Hollow Space #2: Blood Vessels
Like airways, blood vessels, including capillaries, are surrounded by smooth muscle. And like the airways, these smooth muscles are sensitive to CO2 and NO levels. When CO2 and NO levels are lowered in the blood, the smooth muscle contracts and pressure is created in the blood vessels. This is known as hypertension or high blood pressure.
Many people are on blood pressure medication while others use natural supplementation, such as beets, to increase nitrates in the blood. Nitrates are a precursor to nitric oxide. In the breath training world, we teach those with hypertension to breath correctly and naturally retain CO2 and NO in the body. In many cases, high blood pressure normalizes after a few weeks or months of correcting the breath.
Hollow Space #3: Nasal Passages
While your nose is not surrounded by smooth muscle, the inside of the nose is very much a hollow space that contracts and opens (relaxes) like other hollow spaces. The nose is a very important part of the breathing process and has the job of preparing incoming air for the lungs. When things are not right with the air prep process, the tissue inside the nose will contract or create mucus, congestion, restricting airflow.
The inner tissue of the nose, like other hollow spaces, is very sensitive to carbon dioxide levels AND the primary reason for nasal congestion is low levels of CO2. I always enjoy watching a congested person's eyes light up when they apply a simple breathing exercise, called the Nose Clearing Exercise, and within minutes find their nose clears.
Hollow Space #4: Intestines
Many think the "American diet" has led to an increase in the number of people with constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS.) And while diet changes and good gut health may help, often correcting the breath resolves these problems.
As noted earlier, the intestines are surrounded by CO2 and NO sensitive smooth muscle. Correct breathing helps retain these two gases in the body, relaxes the intestinal smooth muscle and everything flows as it should down below. In many cases, the affects can be seen after a few days of doing specialized breathing exercises.
We've seen in this article how breathing correctly can increase/normalize carbon dioxide and nitric oxide levels in the body, resulting in relief of asthma, high blood pressure, nasal congestion, constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In many cases, relief can be seen in days or weeks after breathing is corrected. How you breathe really matters.