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Effects of Overbreathing
Technical Summary of How Overbreathing & the Subsequent Loss of Carbon Dioxide Can Influence Our Health*
bullet Oxygenation: Carbon dioxide plays a large role in oxygen transport from the blood to the cells of the brain and body. A reduction in carbon dioxide levels brings with it reduced oxygenation of tissue and vital organs (Verigo-Bohr Effect). This can lead to many health problems.
bullet Acid/Alkaline Balance and the Immune System: Carbon dioxide, through its conversion to carbonic acid, is a primary regulator of the acid/alkaline balance of the body. A reduction in carbon dioxide shifts the body's pH toward alkalinity, which alters the rate of activity of other biochemical processes. An alkaline system weakens the immune system, thus making the body more susceptible to viruses and allergies.
bullet Vessels: Carbon dioxide helps dilate smooth muscle tissue. Insufficient carbon dioxide can cause spasms throughout the body, including the brain, the bronchi, and other smooth muscle tissues. Good examples are the spasms that take place during asthma attacks and migraines.
bullet The Nervous System: Carbon dioxide is one of the regulators of the nervous system. A reduction of carbon dioxide in the nerve cells heightens their excitability, alerting all the branches of the nervous system and making it more sensitive to outside stimuli. This can lead to sleeping problems, irritability, excessive stress/anxiety, and allergic reactions. Simultaneously, this reduction stimulates the breathing center of the brain and brings about an increase in the rate of breathing. As a result, even more carbon dioxide is lost.
bullet The Cardiovascular System: Carbon dioxide helps regulate the cardiovascular system. Too little carbon dioxide can result in many problems, including angina, high blood pressure, chest pain, myocardial infarcts, strokes, and so on.
bullet The Digestive System: A direct relationship exists between the level of carbon dioxide in the body and the functioning of the digestive glands—especially between the level of carbon dioxide and the intensity of gastric secretion. Too little carbon dioxide can eventually lead to poor digestion and eventually to ulcers.
Special Note for Medical Professionals: This summary of the effects of overbreathing and the subsequent loss of carbon dioxide does not discuss the exact form of the carbon dioxide--for example, dissolved carbon dioxide gas, carbonic acid, bicarbonates, carbonates, etc. It also does not discuss the obvious paradoxes that may result from the various shunts between defensive and compensatory mechanisms. Examples of such paradoxes include high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood of asthmatics, and compensating shifts between respiratory alkalosis and metabolic acidosis.
*This summary is based on information that can be found on the Buteyko Breathing Centre website. Though we do not endorse Buteyko's emphasis on "shallow breathing," we do agree with what he says about the vital relationship of carbon dioxide to health.
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Last modified: February 14, 2014