Breathing and the heart
Our breathing pattern has profound effects on the heart. In fact, about a century ago western doctors developed and studied the science which was called "cardiorespiratory physiology". Why? Because of the close connections between cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Yale University Professor Yandell Henderson (1873-1944) was the father of cardiorespiratory physiology. He wrote first physiological textbooks. A century ago, in 1908, he published some of his results in the American Journal of Physiology. The title of his study was "Carbon dioxide as a factor in the regulation of the heart rate". Professor Henderson found that when breathing gets bigger and deeper, CO2 level in the blood drops below the norm, arteries and arterioles constrict, and it is more difficult for the heart to pump the blood. Moreover, forceful hyperventilation done by suction and exhaust pumps killed all his dogs in less than 30 minutes due to ... cardiac arrest! He wrote, "... we were enabled to regulate the heart to any desired rate from 40 or fewer up to 200 or more beats per minute. The method was very simple. It depended on the manipulation of the hand bellows with which artificial respiration was administered... As the pulmonary ventilation increased or diminished the heart rate was correspondingly accelerated or retarded" (p.127, Henderson, 1908). Obviously, heavy breathing caused very high heart rate, spasms of coronary arteries, and death of his animals.
During more recent times it was also found that even slight over-breathing reduces heart oxygenation, creates abnormal excitability of pace makers, and suppresses perfusion of the heart muscle. Hence, over-breathing creates several different abnormalities in the cardiovascular system. It is not a surprise then that so many heart problems, according to Western studies, are possible only in conditions of over-breathing:
- palpitations (Bass C, 1990; Cluff, 1984; Demeter & Cordasco, 1986; Lum, 1975; Magarian et al., 1983; Nixon, 1989; Sher, 1991)
- cardiac neurosis (Bass C, 1990; Cluff, 1984; Nixon, 1989)
- angina pain (Nixon, 1989)
- myocardial infarction (Nixon, 1989)
- Wolfe-Parkinson-White syndrome (Nixon, 1989)
- arrhythmias (Cluff, 1984; Demeter & Cordasco, 1986; Nixon, 1989)
- stenosis of coronary artery (Demeter & Cordasco, 1986; Nixon, 1989; Sher, 1991; Waites, 1978)
- tachycardia (Cluff, 1984; Lum, 1975; Nixon, 1989; Tavel, 1990)
- failure of coronary bypass grafts (Nixon, 1989)
- right ventricular ectopy (Nixon, 1989)
- silent ischemia (Nixon, 1989)
- elevated blood pressure (Nixon, 1989)
- flat or inverted ECG T-wave (Demeter & Cordasco, 1986; Nixon, 1989; Sher, 1991; Tavel, 1990)
- vasoconstriction (Cluff, 1984; Demeter & Cordasco, 1986; Lum, 1975; Nixon, 1989; Sher, 1991)
- reduced cerebral blood flow (Cluff, 1984; Lum, 1975; Magarian et al., 1983; Sher, 1991; Waites, 1978)
- mitral prolapse (Bass C, 1990; Cluff, 1984; Nixon, 1989; Tavel, 1990)
- low cardiac output/stroke volume (Waites, 1978); (courtesy of Peter Kolb, Biochemical Engineer, Australia).
For references click here: www.normalbreathing.com/refer.php
About a decade ago, a group of Japanese medical doctors conducted a large study with 206 heart patients. They were asked to hyperventilate and 100% of patients experienced coronary artery spasms (Nakao et al, 1997). If heavy breathing causes heart attacks, then breathing less could alleviate it. Indeed, Soviet physiologist Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, MD developed a system of breathing normalization, which is now known as the Buteyko breathing method. Dr. Buteyko and his medical colleagues used this method for many thousands of Soviet and Russian heart patients. (I translated many Russian medical papers.) One of their breathing exercise helps to stop heart attacks, in most cases, without using medication. How?
Practical actions during the heart attack
Sit down in any chair, couch, sofa or divan for better relaxation. If there are no objects to sit on, sit on the ground or floor, e.g. on your knees or with criss-crossed legs. Relax all your muscles. Focus on your breathing. It must be huge. Why? Numerous studies proved that heart patients breathe 2-3 times more than the medical norm between the acute episodes. During attacks their breathing is even heavier. Angina pain (coronary arteries spasms), stroke, myocardial infarction, and other life-threatening episodes are possible only when they breathe 4-6 times more air than the medical norm. You are breathing too much!
Focus on your breathing again. What do you feel? If the sensations are vague, take a deep but slow in-breath and relax to slowly exhale. Do you feel the airflow going through your nostrils? Do you have any sensations at the back of your throat? Are there any feelings about movement of air inside the chest and bronchi? What do you sense near your stomach?
Next, instead of taking your usual huge inhalation, take a slightly smaller inhalation (only about 5-10% less) and then immediately relax all muscles, especially upper chest and all other breathing muscles. Take another (smaller) inhalation and again completely relax.
With each breath, take a small or reduced inhalation and then completely relax. You will soon experience light air hunger. The goal is to preserve this light level of air hunger for 2-3 minutes.
The breathing can be frequent during this reduced or shallow breathing but this is OK. If you do the exercise correctly, you will notice that you negative symptoms disappear.
About your medication
If you cannot alleviate the upcoming attack in 5 minutes, use 1/3 of your standard medication. After taking medication, repeat the breathing exercise monitoring the severity of the symptoms. If it is still not possible to stop an attack, again take 1/3 of your usual dose. Do the breathing exercise once more. Russian medical doctors and practitioners found that most patients could eliminate their symptoms in 1-5 minutes.
YouTube Video clip about this breathing exercise:
How to check one's breathing and heart oxygenation
Two American medical doctors, Robert Kohn and Bertha Cutcher from Rochester, in their article "Breath holding time in the screening for rehabilitation potential of cardiac patients" (Kohn & Cutcher, 1970) described the testing of more than 100 cardiac patients. It was found that "...an individual unable to hold his breath for at least 20 sec is a poor candidate for vocational rehabilitation". Furthermore, "It is now suggested that the determination of the breath-holding time is an effective screening test for rehabilitation potential" (Kohn & Cutcher, 1970).
Measure your stress-free breath holding time after exhalation. The test is very sensitive to tissue oxygen content and our minute ventilation. How is the test done? After your usual exhalation, pinch your nose and hold your breath only till the first stress or discomfort. When you finish the test and release your nose, you should be able to breathe as before the test. Normal breath holding time is about 40-60 s. People with mild heart disease have about 15 s of oxygen. Severe heart disease means only about 6-12 s of oxygen in the body. During heart attacks it is only 5 s or less. This is the paradox of breathing: those people, who breathe heavy, have less oxygen in the tissues. While this stress-free version of the test is the safest (many MDs use maximum breath holding time test), some heart patients may still experience unpleasant symptoms soon after the test. If this is true for you, avoid this test until the times when your oxygenation is better and the test is 100% safe.
If you normalize your breathing, your breath holding time will be about 40-60 s (a lot of oxygen in the body and the heart), and your heart problem will disappear.
Henderson Y, Acapnia and shock. - I. Carbon dioxide as a factor in the regulation of the heart rate, American Journal of Physiology 1908, 21: p. 126-156.
Kohn RM & Cutcher B, Breath-holding time in the screening for rehabilitation potential of cardiac patients, Scand J Rehabil Med 1970; 2(2): 105-107.
Nakao K, Ohgushi M, Yoshimura M, Morooka K, Okumura K, Ogawa H, Kugiyama K, Oike Y, Fujimoto K, Yasue H, Hyperventilation as a specific test for diagnosis of coronary artery spasm. American Journal of Cardiology 1997 Sep 1; 80(5): 545-9.