How Breathing Can Kill You
By Christopher Caile
Everyone knows that an adequate oxygen supply is critical to health.
Of all the elements the body needs, only oxygen is in such constant and
critical demand that if breath is cut off, in a few minutes one dies.
Few realized, however, that improper breathing, over time, could have
dire consequences, leading to disease, ill health and even premature death.
Proper breathing isn’t easy. It takes a lot more than just filling
the lungs with air. Oxygen must be transported to the cells by the circulatory
system and absorbed by body cells. The efficiency of this process varies
greatly and is influenced by many factors, including what we eat and drink,
exercise and, even posture.
If our cellular oxygen supply is impaired, the energy used to fire our
biological functions is reduced. Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD, PhD, notes
in his book, “The Oxygen Breakthrough,” that an “emerging
spectrum of disorders characterized by impaired immunity, and are at a
still deeper level by disabled energy-making mechanisms in the cells.”
Disorders include infectious diseases, auto-immune disorders, AIDS, chronic
fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression, respiratory aliments, cardiac symptoms,
and susceptibility to aches, pains and irritability.
While poor breathing can negatively impact the body’s energy, oxygen
shortages can be further aggravated by environmental and other factors.
Polluted urban environments, for example, can significantly reduce the
oxygen content of air. And, if air smells foul, we tend naturally to take
shallow breaths, receiving even less oxygen. Other oxygen robbers include
smoking, stress, allergies, toxins, and infectious agents. Stuart M. Berger,
MD, author of “Forever Young,” notes that with age, a combination
of reduced cardiac function and lung capacity cuts oxygen availability
to the cells by as much as 50 percent.
That is why good breathing, to maximize oxygen intake, is the most important
action we can do to improve our heath. “Good breathing” requires
efficient use of the lungs (external breathing) to maximize cellular oxygen
absorption for energy (internal breathing), as well as maximizing the
bloodstream’s transport of oxygen to the cells (transport efficiency).
Put one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest. Now,
breath. Which hand moved? If only the upper hand moved, you are a chest
breather. Your air is pulled in mostly to the upper regions of the lungs
so your breath tends to be shallow, more rapid and inefficient.
If your lower hand moved too, you are breathing from your diaphragm (stomach
breathing) and are pulling down a larger volume of air into the lower
lung regions where more blood had settled so more oxygen can be absorbed.
Optimum breathing involves the whole lung, upper and lower sections, in
a deeper, slower breath cycle. This has a quieting psychological effect
and reduces stress and anxiety.
This mind-body connection is a central tenant in Chinese Chi Kung, the
science of body energy. This and other ancient practices are receiving
growing attention from researchers, including Harvard University’s
Herbert Benson, MD, author of “the Relaxation Response.”
The body is a composite of 75 trillion cells, all constantly absorbing
oxygen. Oxygen fires with sugar, and the breakdown of fats and starches
produces biological energy. This energy is ATP (adenosine triphosphate),
the energy of life, the fuel that runs our cells and biological processes.
It charges each cell with energy, much like a microscopic battery, consumed
with every heartbeat, through muscle movement, or enzyme creation.
How much ATP do we use? Dr. Hendler states that every day the average
person creates and uses and astounding amount, about equal to his or her
own body weight. Most of us take in over 2,500 gallons of air daily to
fuel the process.
The efficiency of our cells to absorb oxygen through their membranes
and expel carbon dioxide can vary significantly and can be negatively
affected by what we eat and drink. The typical American diet is especially
bad, due to its high cholesterol and fatty acids, dependence on animal
protein and refined carbohydrates, and deficiency in vegetables, fiber
and adequate water.
Consequently, cell membranes become less able to pass oxygen, and electron
transfers, which are essential to cell energy production, are interrupted.
Dr. Shelden explains, “A kind of bio-electric short … reverberates
through all body parts.”
Diet recommendations to increase cellular oxygen absorption include cutting
down on fats and cholesterol and most cheeses and increasing intake of
vegetable d and fruits with emphasis on fish oils, fiber and protein from
vegetable. Other recommendations include changing to skim milk and butter
substitutes and switching to olive vegetable oils in cooking.
Or blood is the intermediary between the lungs, which gather oxygen,
and the body’s cells, which consume oxygen. In the process, carbon
dioxide is transported back to the lungs to be expelled. Two important
factors are the alkaline pH balance of the blood and the availability
of red blood cells to carry oxygen.
Traditional Chinese Medicine, including Chi Kung, has always observed
the constitutional characteristics of patients and the proper yin/yang
balance of foods. Dr. Theodore Baroody, Jr., author of “Alkalize
or Die,” states that slight changes in acid base balance of the
blood have significant effects of oxygen availability to the tissues.
For example, slight acidity associated with an excess of hydrogen ions,
which combine with oxygen to create water, depriving the blood of large
quantities of oxygen, causing oxygen deficiency. Especially detrimental
is the standard American diet. It derives much of its calories from acidic
foods, which alter the blood pH balance.
Dietary recommendations to obtain blood alkaline pH values, or Yin foods,
include raw vegetables and fruits, salad greens, bean spouts, raw fish,
coffee, tea and milk (acidity-alkaline balance makes no distinction between
skim and whole milk). Acidifying or Yang foods should b eaten in moderation.
The include sugar, honey, alcohol, white flour, meat, fish (preferable
to higher cholesterol meat), eggs, nuts, whole grains, beans and legumes.
Another overlooked factor in oxygen transportation is the available quantity
of red blood cells to transport oxygen. World-class athletes often train
at high altitude to boost aerobic capability with the body adjusting by
pumping out more red blood cells to compensate for lower atmospheric pressure.
For thousands of years, Chi Kung and Indian Yoga have used a variety of
prolonged breathing exercise, for example breath lengths gradually slowed
to over a minute. Many believe this technique stimulates the body to compensate
by producing more red blood cells. If exercise is maintained, the blood
level of oxygen transportation is increased.
O2 therapies and supplements
Medical researchers claim increased oxygen may be effective against
cancer, AIDS< and other diseases, as is medical ozone and low levels
of hydrogen peroxide. Experimental trials are being conducted on the use
o hyperbaric oxygen treatment to fight cancer and other illnesses. Also,
many traditional herbs, nutrients, and drugs have been shown to be effective
in immune and energy disorders. Supplements such as organic germanium
boost the blood’s ability to carry more oxygen, according to Kazuhiko
Asai, PhD, author of “Miracle Cure-Organic Germanium.”
Breathing properly, however, reduces the need for treatments, supplements
and medicine. The Chinese and Indian Yogis have used breath therapy for
thousands of years. A combination of improved physical breathing, proper
diet and exercise, effectively maximize oxygen intake, transportation,
absorption and use by the body.
Breathing is not a simple act, but rather a holistic process of maintaining
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com.
He has been a student of the martial arts for over 50 years and a teacher
of karate since 1962. He is the author of over 300 articles and columns
on the martial arts and editor of several martial arts books. Over the
last 20 years he has conducts seminars on street self-defense to community
and student groups in both the United States and Canada. His seminars
topics also include his specialty areas of kata applications and joint
locks and other jujutsu-like techniques found within karate. Caile started
his martial arts career in judo. Then he added karate as a student of
Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then
hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later
in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho
Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black
belt (Sei Shihan) in that organization's honbu dojo (NYC). He is also
Sensei in Wadokai Aikido under Roy Suenaka Sensei. Other experience includes
diato-ryu aikijujutsu, Hakuho-Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto
Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including
Praying Mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow), Wing Chun, Chin Na and Shuai
Chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch
of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of
the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.).
He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in
Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast
Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies
in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional
life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.