Breathing and the brain
Our breathing pattern has profound effects on the brain. Unnoticeable changes in breathing (when we believe that our breathing is OK) can reduce oxygenation and blood supply by 20-30%. How should we breathe, day and night, so that to have maximum oxygenation of the brain? Which breathing pattern is the best for our nervous system?
While over 95% people believe that the deep or big breathing pattern is good for health, medical and physiological evidence (hundreds of publications) provides the opposite answer. Indeed, there is no a single study that confirmed or found that deep breathing pattern improves or is good for our health. Why?
If you take 100 fast and deep breaths in succession, you can pass out or faint due to ... hypoxia of the brain. There are dozens of medical studies that confirmed this effect. Hyperventilation is a health hazard. Healthy people have light, slow, and shallow breathing pattern and excellent oxygenation. If you observe breathing of your healthy relatives and friends, you will see nothing and hear nothing. It is the job of the sick patients (with asthma, heart disease, bronchitis, cancer, diabetes, depression, fatigue, insomnia, addictions and many other problems) to breathe heavy and to have ... low tissue oxygenation, as a result. They are hyperventilating.
You can easily measure your brain oxygenation
Use the stress-free breath holding time test. Breathe normally while sitting; after your usual exhale pinch the nose (to prevent slight unconscious breathing); and measure the breath holding time only until the first distress or discomfort. [Warning. Some, not all, people with heart disease, migraine headaches, and panic attacks may experience negative symptoms minutes later after this light version of the test. If this happens, they should avoid this test.]
The most common mistake is to overdo the test. In this case, you will notice that the stress is gradually increasing. It is time to stop. If you do the test correctly, you will not gasp for air after the test. In fact, your breathing pattern must be exactly the same after the correct test as it was just before it.
What are the typical results?
Severely sick, hospitalized, and terminally ill patients have from 1 to 10 s of oxygen. With approaching death, their breathing gets bigger, deeper, and heavier, while breath holding time approaches zero: 5, 4, 3, 2, and only 1 second just before the death. (You may remember seeing last frantic and dramatic gasps for air of dying people.)
Sick patients with mild forms of the disease (asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.) have about 10-20 s. These patients are usually on medication to control their symptoms. Asymptomatic asthmatics, heart patients and many others have slightly more than 20 s of oxygen.
Healthy adults, according to published western results, should have about 40 s, but a group of Russian MDs practicing the Buteyko holistic self-oxygenation therapy found that 60 s of oxygen is incompatible with about 150 chronic diseases or diseases of civilization. Hence, they established 60 s as the goal of the therapy.
What are the causes of brain hypoxia when we over-breathe?
When we breathe heavier or deeper, we remove too much CO2 from all cells of the human organism. This causes:
* Reduced blood flow to the brain (http://www.normalbreathing.com/CO2-vasodilation.php). CO2 deficiency causes constriction of blood vessels (arteries and arterioles) and our brains get less blood supply. This physiological fact can be found in many medical textbooks. As Professor Newton from the University of Southern California Medical Center recently reported, "cerebral blood flow decreases 2% for every mm Hg decrease in CO2" (Newton, 2004). That means that with each second decrease in the oxygenation index, blood flow to the brain is less by about 1%. Less blood means a decreased supply of glucose (the main fuel for the brain in normal conditions), oxygen, and other nutrients. In addition, it causes gradual accumulation of waste products in tissues.
* The suppressed Bohr effect (http://www.normalbreathing.com/CO2-Bohr.php). As we know, oxygen is transported in blood by hemoglobin cells. How do these red blood cells know where to release more oxygen and where less? Or why do they unload more oxygen in those places where it is more required? The hemoglobin cells sense higher concentrations of CO2 and release oxygen in such places. The effect strongly depends on the absolute CO2 values in the blood and the lungs.
If CO2 concentration is low, O2 cells are stuck with red blood cells. (Scientists call this effect "increased oxygen affinity to hemoglobin"). Hence, CO2 deficiency leads to hypoxia or low oxygenation of the body cells (the suppressed Bohr effect). The more we breathe at rest, the less the oxygenation of our cells in vital organs, like brain, heart, liver, kidneys, etc.
Not only is the inflow of oxygen less (vasoconstriction), but also its release is hampered by low CO2 concentrations (the Bohr effect). That further reduces brain oxygenation.
Do clinical studies show that patients with mental or psychological problems have heavy breathing?
In 1976 the British Journal of Psychiatry published a study of CO2 measurements in 60 patients with neurotic depression and non-retarded endogenous depression (Mora et al, 1976). All patients had abnormally low carbon dioxide values.
Later, in 1990, American psychiatrists from Hunter College (City University of New York) reported results from several groups of subjects with anxiety, panic phobia, depression, migraine, and idiopathic seizures. The abstract states "virtually all the noncontrol subjects were found to show moderate to severe hyperventilation and accompanying EEG dysrhythmia" (Fried et al, 1990). In addition, it notes that hyperventilation and abnormal electrical signals in the brain took place simultaneously.
Canadian scientists from the Department of Psychiatry (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg) measured carbon dioxide concentrations in over 20 patients with panic disorder. Their average CO2 was also below the medical norm (Asmundson and Stein, 1994). There are many other studies that report abnormally low CO2 values for people with various psychological and neurological problems.
Is hyperventilation the cause of these health problems?
There is no any evidence showing that people with normal breathing parameters can suffer from neurological or psychological problems. All available research indicates that all patients with depression, scizophrenia, phobias, panic attacks, ADD, ADHD, addictions, sleeping problems, etc. have abnormal breathing pattern manifested in chronic hyperventilation.
If you normalize your breathing, your breath holding time will be about 40-60 s (a lot of oxygen in the body and the brain), and your health problems related to the brain or the central nervous system will disappear. Russian Doctor KP Buteyko, MD developed the medical self-oxygenation therapy known as "the Buteyko method". He trained about 200 MDs to use the Buteyko oxygenation therapy in practice. The prime goal of this therapy is to normalize breathing and body oxygenation. Normal breathing is invisible and inaudible. It is light and relaxed: we take tiny or small inhalation and immediately relax for a longer exhale, then again we take ... However, as these MDs found it is a difficult goal to change one's breathing pattern permanently. It requires many steps and changes. Learn more about the Buteyko self-oxygenation therapy, breathing patterns, tissue oxygenation, and breathing retraining.