There has been a big shift in the recent years towards how what we eat plays a big part in how we function and overall health. This has not only come about as our understanding of the gut brain connection has improved but also as people’s access to junk food, and bad quality heavily processed food, has had an impact on overall health and the rise in levels of obesity and associated diseases.
This information is great and there are lots of people out there who talk a lot about how what you eat is the best way to take back control of your life and get on top of systemic inflammation and your overall health. I am not here to say that is not true, but it perhaps isn’t THE deciding factor that a lot of people have led you to believe it is.
What you eat and how active you are should be considered foundational elements of your overall health, but there is one thing that underpins both of these. It governs your ability to be able to recover from any exercise that you do, can help maximise the use of the food that you are putting into your system, affect hormonal levels, mood, sleep and on and on. What is this magic thing I hear you ask? It’s the way you breathe.
Breathing is fundamental to maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the body which provides the best internal environment for all of the chemical reactions that keep us going. When homeostasis is disturbed this illicits certain responses in the body that attempt to keep it in balance, which short term can be great, but if you are constantly fighting internally to keep your body in homeostasis then this will start to show.
At rest our breathing should be almost unnoticeable and our breaths should be spaced out as we should only require to take a few breaths per minute. However, a lot of people “over breathe”, that is their breathing frequency is much higher than it should require to be. Next time you get a chance start watching how other people breathe, see how often they are taking a breath at rest, see if the length of time they inhale and exhale for is the same or different, do they take a number of slow breaths and then a big heaving one, do they breathe through their mouth or nose and so on. (Unfortunately this is very difficult to do with yourself because as soon as you take notice of how you breathe you inadvertently change how you breathe.) What you will notice is that most people have a very high breathing frequency, that as soon as they have finished the exhale they inhale again, in fact it is like they are almost constantly breathing.
What is the problem with this? Well potentially quite a lot. Over breathing (hyperventilation) is associated with actually being able to use less oxygen even though you are taking more in. You actually become less efficient at using the oxygen you breathe in because the hyperventilation gets rid of the carbon dioxide in our system and it is the level of carbon dioxide that is a regulatory factor in our ability to be able to use oxygen – this is called the Bohr Effect. (This is why if someone is panicking you get them to breathe into a paper bag, to raise the level of carbon dioxide in their blood, which will help slow their breathing.)
So breathing quickly prevents us from using the oxygen we have taken in efficiently, so we have to breathe more to get more oxygen in for us to use. Vicious cycle. And it is this lack of carbon dioxide that can start to disrupt homeostasis which in turn will go on to suppress our immune system, and then effect all sorts of things from there, and this will link to, if not lead to, systemic inflammation.
In part 2 we will talk discuss how and why people become hyperventilators and talk more about what this affects (you can see a bunch in the graphic above) and where it may be showing in your body.