Breathing conditions play a role in seemingly unrelated health conditions such as as diabetes, posture, GI issues, menstrual and more. Nearly 90% of us breathe incorrectly, which can aggravate chronic disease. How we breathe effects how we deal with physical, chemical, and emotional stresses. We all take approximately 670 million breathes in our lifetime, but are we doing it in a way that supports proper function for health?
This week on A Different Perspective, Dr. Sam Wagner discusses the importance of proper, functional breathing. He covers the effect of functional breathing in multiple systems within the body and concludes with offering strategies to support respiratory health. Join Dr. Sam as he dives into breathing conditions from a Wellness Way perspective and part of the health restoration journey.
Respiratory Disease in Numbers
Dr. Sam kicks off the episode by sharing some startling facts regarding dysfunctional breathing.
Allergies, asthma, and respiratory illnesses are contributing to a global epidemic that has increased almost 4-fold since 1980. Ten percent of the global population has some sort of a respiratory disorder with a price tag of almost $420 billion.
- More than 25 million people in the United States have asthma.
- Approximately 14.8 million adults have been diagnosed with COPD
- An estimated 12 million have not yet been diagnosed with a chronic respiratory disease.
- Annual health care expenditures for asthma alone are an estimated $20.7 billion
- Asthma is leading cause of emergency room visits, hospital visits, and missed school for children in the United States.
Typically, oral steroids are used to help alleviate symptoms of asthma, however studies are showing they may be doing more harm than good. Long-term, oral steroid use is damaging to the body causing deterioration of lung tissue and function, which in turn causes worsening of asthma symptoms. Issues with nerve connection to eyes and blindness are also concerns that have been raised with the common treatment that is often a life-long prescription.
Breathing Plays a Role in Many Non-Respiratory Functions
Often, the medical community looks at dysfunctional breathing as linked simply to the conditions of the respiratory system. In the past, doctors didn’t often assess the quality of breaths nor the efficiency of a person’s breathing, much less how this basic process affects overall health. Dr. Sam takes a closer look at how we breath affects so many other systems we may not connect.
Dysfunctional breathing is an inappropriate breathing pattern that is inconsistent enough to cause symptoms without a specific known organic cause. Typically, this causes a sympathetic condition in the body and causes the fight or flight response to be activated.
- Psychophysiology and ANS Regulation
- Regulation of mental and emotional states
- Modulates physiological hyperarousal and sympathetic/vagal balance.
- Posture, Stability and Motor Control
- Regulates intraabdominal pressure needed for physiological stability of the spine
- Provides foundation for functional movement patterns
- Speech and Vocalization
- Supports voice production for speaking, singing and other utterances
- Fine motor control of breathing needed for changes in pitches, intonation, and phrasing
- Fluid Dynamics
- Breathing creates and regulates pressure differentials between thoracic and abdominal cavities.
- Affects dynamics of all fluid systems: blood, lymph, and CSF (cerebral spinal fluid). Drives venous return to heart.
What Does Dysfunctional Breathing Look Like?
Dysfunctional Breathing (DB) can present symptoms across numerous systems that may appear unconnected ranging from:
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness
- frequent sighing or yawning (air hunger)
- persistent musculoskeletal pain
- tissue hypoxia
- fibromyalgia type symptoms
- myofascial pain syndromes
- hyper arousal
- constant sympathetic state, fight or flight response
- high stress levels
- sleep apnea and inability to get restful sleep.
Where Do Issues Begin?
Nearly 50% of the population suffers from chronic nasal obstruction. This leads to habitual mouth breathers. Mouth breathing creates more physiological stress on the body and is more common in women and children. This method of breathing decreases oxygen flow and gives bacteria the opportunity to flourish which suppresses the immune system and leads to further infections. When our oxygen levels fall below 90%, our blood is unable to carry enough oxygen to support our body tissues.
Mouth Breathing vs Nasal Breathing
Airway and Breathing Function
- Changes the physical body and transforms our airways for poorer function
- Decreases pressure
- Weakens tissue
- Lessens airway space
- Forces air against tissues
- Increases pressure
- Tones tissue
- Increases airway space
Mouth Breathing and Kidney Function
- Causes the body to lose upwards of 40% more water
- Increases the need to urinate
- Vasopressin dysregulation
These effects can disrupt the sleep pattern and appear to have similar effects as sleep apnea.
Mouth Breathing, Dental Health, and Oral Hygiene
Bacterial overgrowth in the oral cavity can contribute to periodontal health, bad breath, and cavities. Mouth breathing is more likely a bigger contributor to poor oral health than sugar. The oral microbiome disruption isn’t limited to the mouth; it plays a much larger role in affecting overall health.
There are many structural components used in nasal-breathing that contribute to overall health:
- Turbinates that can filter toxins out, heat the air, and slow the air so that the oxygen flow in the lungs increases.
- Sinuses release nitric oxide which increases blood circulation to deliver more oxygen throughout the body. This in turn will affect the immune function, weight management, immune function, sexual function, and cardiovascular function.
The Diaphragm: Function and the 2nd Heart
The diaphragm is an umbrella shaped muscle that rests just below the lungs. It is often called the second heart because of the rhythmic function and the effects on the cardiovascular system. When you exhale, the diaphragm lifts and helps to squeeze the lung space so that it empties properly. It drops back down as we inhale to allow lung space to fill with air. This process happens nearly 50,000 times per day. If this isn’t functioning properly, that is a lot of ineffective, inefficient, and possibly damaging repetition!
An average adult is only able to engage the diaphragm only 10% of the time. When the diaphragm isn’t engaged properly, the process puts more pressure on the heart. This can increase circulation problems and cause further dysregulation in other systems. When we use our diaphragm 50-70% of the time, cardiovascular stress is reduced by 90% and allows our body to work a lot more efficiently.
Breathing and CO2
In an interesting tie to weight loss, Dr. Sam shares how crucial functional breathing is to weight loss.
Our body doesn’t just loose weight by sweating profusely and cutting calories. Of every 10 pounds lost, 8.5 of those are expelled through the lungs in the form of CO2 and water vapor. Lung function helps maintain a healthy weight, and proper breathing plays a crucial role in this process.
Breathing and Body pH
Nearly all cellular function happens at a neutral pH of 7.4. Hyperventilating, or expelling too much CO2 due to shallow breaths, can lead to a more alkaline blood stream. Deeper breaths can make our body a bit more acidic. The body adapts temporarily to these changes; however, this shouldn’t be a constant state. As the body adapts, it will release bicarbonate to help neutralize the blood. Unfortunately, bicarbonate can also take with it beneficial nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and other key vitamins and minerals that can become depleted. This depletion can cause other system and organ dysfunction over a period of time.
Breathing and Stress Response
Stress changes the way we breathe, whether that’s taking big gulps of air, or faster, more shallow breaths. This change is necessary to direct the proper energy to the organs and systems that need it most. Our bodies are designed to be in the fight or flight stress response for short periods of time. It may only take a moment for the body to adapt and go into the stress response, which is good in emergency situations. Unfortunately, it can hours or days to recover from the stress response and have the body return to normal function. Chronic stress deregulates the body to function less efficiently to sustain life.
Breathing and Posture
As kids and teens, we all heard we had to sit up straight or correct our posture. Dr. Sam shared an inspirational story of Katharina Schroth that supports this sage advice. Schroth, born in Germany in 1894, suffered from a scoliosis, a curvature in her spine. By focusing on her breathing, she was able to treat herself and restore function through stretching, exercising, and breathing techniques for herself and then numerous others in her clinic. In the 1940’s few people saw how something as simple as breathing would have a profound effect on such structural issues. Recently, she was recognized by the German medical society for her forward thinking in breathing’s effect on the body.
Doctor Sam shared the importance of looking at all the muscles involved in effective breathing. Many people are so focused on the superficial muscles visible on the abdomen, yet we ignore the ones that are key to health!
Retraining Breathing Patterns
Breathing is the first thing we do when we enter this world. It is the most primal thing we do as humans to survive.
“If breathing is not normalized – no other movement can be.” Dr. Karel Lewit
Dr. Sam shared a study published in the NIH’s PubMed. In the study, patients were evaluated for over-all quality of life, anxiety, depression, brain fog, breathing patterns, emergency room visits. The study indicated that participants previously diagnosed with dysfunctional breathing benefited from breathing re-training and reported a significant decrease of the effects dysfunctional breathing had on their daily life.
Dr. Sam shared what retraining the breathing pattern would look like in practical applications. Watchers will benefit from these exercises and good habit-forming practices. Not only will they gain better lung-function they will also benefit from healthy breathing habits’ effects on the body.
Supplements to Support Healthy Breathing
Dr. Sam concludes by sharing some supplements that can support lung-function and support the health journey.
Nettle leaf helps support the body’s response to allergies by limiting histamine response and key inflammatory events related to allergy exposure. Nettle also helps dilate the nasal cavity to support healthy breathing.
Osha root is a bronchodilator that helps support mucous membranes, open lung passageways, and promotes normal lung function. Osha root also has properties to help maintain proper oral microbiome and supports the body against infection.
Neo40 helps in nitric oxide production and supports circulation in the body.
Breathing is a biochemical function that plays a role in every organ and system in the body. The way we breathe has a direct effect on our bodies and plays a significant role in health, no matter our age.