What Is The Impact of Over-Breathing?
Before outlining the impact on our body/mind system or symptoms of over-breathing or inefficient breathing, it is best that we first address what adaptations or responses the body makes to reduce low pACO2 and, as a result, low levels of oxygen (hypoxia) in tissues caused by over breathing.
It should be noted that if too much CO2 is exhaled the blood pH levels will become too alkaline (above the ideal 7.35 to 7.45 ideal range). This is known as alkalosis, and at pH 7.8, cells in the body will die. So the brain will take whatever steps necessary to prevent alkalosis via excessive loss of CO2.
1. The first defensive mechanism is that the brain will cause smooth muscle constriction or spasm in the tubes of our body, including the respiratory tubes or airways. This serves to narrow the airways preventing the amount of CO2 exhaled.
This can result in:
- tightness in the chest
- shortness of breath
- wheezing as air is being forced through narrow tubes, and panic as breathing becomes labored.
These effects are often seen as symptoms of asthma, emphysema, anxiety, panic attacks and other respiratory problems.
Smooth muscle surrounds the tubes in many of the systems in our body in addition to the respiratory system. These include the circulatory, lymphatic, digestive and urinary systems. Unfortunately, when the brain causes smooth muscle to be restricted or go into spasm, it is not always selective of the tubes of our respiratory system or airways.
As a result, over breathing can lead to all kinds of conditions related to smooth muscle constriction or spasm including:
- High blood pressure
- Digestive complaints (constipation, diarrhoea, IBS etc.)
- Urinary complaints - excessive night time toilet trips or bed wetting
- Reduced supply of blood to tissue which results in reduced supply of oxygen and other essential nutrients to tissues and cells.
2. The second defense mechanism to prevent alkalosis as a result of low CO2 is for the brain to send a message to the diaphragm instructing it to stop breathing for a while, allowing CO2 levels to rise. This serves to restore blood pH to normal. Breathing recommences with a snort or gasp, dropping CO2 levels and starting the cycle all over again. This most commonly occurs during sleep and is known as sleep apnoea.
Many of the symptoms or conditions created as a result of over breathing are a direct result of these defense mechanisms. Other symptoms or conditions result from low oxygen levels (hypoxia) in the cells or tissue as a result of low pACO2. This leads to poor energy production and function of our body's cells. Conditions that can result from hypoxia in cells or tissues include fatigue and lethargy, poor concentration, memory loss, eczema and other skin conditions.
This table shows that over breathing can result in a reduction of up to 40% in O2 reaching the brain in a short period of time. These changes clearly illustrate the serious implications on numerous processes within the body that over-breathing causes, with brain function being representative of low CO2 affecting O2 being delivered to working tissue and brain.
The table below shows numerous conditions that can result as a consequence of over breathing and the defense mechanisms to prevent CO2 loss or as a direct consequence of hypoxia or low oxygen levels at the cellular level. The plethora of conditions is no surprise given that breathing is so central to our function as a living organism.