Our breathing pattern has profound effects on the brain. Unnoticeable changes
in breathing (when you believe that your breathing is OK) can lead to less
oxygen in your brain and reduce brain blood supply by 20-30%. How should we breathe, day and night, to insure
maximum oxygenation of the brain? Which breathing pattern is the best for our
nervous system? How to get more oxygen to the brain?
While over 95% people believe that the deep or big breathing pattern is
good for health, medical and physiological evidence (hundreds of
publications) provide the opposite answer. Indeed, there is not a single
study that confirmed or found that a deep breathing pattern improves or is
good for our health. Why?
If you take 100 fast and deep breaths in succession, you can pass out or
faint due to a lack of available oxygen for the brain - brain hypoxia. There
are dozens of medical studies that confirm this effect.
While we would not recommend it, you can test these ideas practically. If
anyone takes repeated deep and fast breaths (hyperventilates), they may pass
out (or faint) due to lack of oxygen in the brain.
Cerebral vasoconstriction is a linear effect – the more you
hyperventilate, the more blood vessels in the brain (and other tissues)
constrict. Those who hyperventilate (over-breath), have been observed, on
average, to have about 20% less oxygen in the brain 24/7. At this level,
your brain oxygenation will be in between these two images.
Hyperventilation is a health hazard. Healthy people have light, slow, and
shallow breathing pattern and excellent oxygenation. If you observe
breathing of your healthy relatives and friends, you will see nothing and
hear nothing. Sick people (those with asthma, heart disease, bronchitis,
cancer, diabetes, depression, fatigue, insomnia, addictions, and many other
problems), on the other hand, breathe heavy and as a result have a lack of
oxygen in the brain as well as low cell oxygen levels. They are
You can easily measure your brain oxygen content
Use the stress-free breath holding time test. Breathe normally
while sitting; after your usual exhale pinch the nose (to prevent
slight unconscious breathing); and measure the breath holding time (in seconds) only
until the first distress or discomfort. [Warning. Some, not all, people
with heart disease, migraine headaches, and panic attacks may
experience negative symptoms minutes later after this light version of
the test. If this happens, they should avoid this test.]
The most common mistake is to overdo breath holding during the test. In this case,
you will notice that the stress is gradually increasing. It is time to
stop. If you do the test correctly, you will not gasp for air after the
test. In fact, your breathing pattern must be exactly the same after
the correct test as it was just before it.
What are the typical breath holding time test results?
Severely sick, hospitalized, and terminally ill patients have a breath
holding time of between 1 to 10 s (this is referred to as 1 to 10 s of oxygen).
With approaching death, their breathing gets bigger, deeper, and heavier, while
breath holding time approaches zero: 5, 4, 3, 2, and only 1 second just before
the death. (You may remember seeing last frantic and dramatic gasps for air of
Sick patients with mild forms of the disease (asthma, heart
disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.) have about 10-20 s. These patients are
usually on medication to control their symptoms. Asymptomatic
asthmatics, heart patients and many others have slightly more than 20 s
of oxygen. (See the links to studies below.)
Healthy adults, according to published western results, should
have about 40 s, but a group of Russian MDs practicing the Buteyko
holistic self-oxygenation therapy found that 60 s of oxygen is
incompatible with about 150 chronic diseases or diseases of
civilization. Hence, they established 60 s as the goal of the therapy.
breathing pattern, which provides the brain with 3 min of
oxygen at rest, corresponds to breathing frequency of only 3-4 breaths
per min during basal or unconscious breathing.
What are the causes of brain hypoxia when we overbreathe?
When we breathe heavier or deeper (more than
norm), we remove too much CO2 from all cells of the human
organism. This causes:
* Reduced blood flow to the brain.
CO2 deficiency causes constriction of blood vessels (arteries and
arterioles) and our brains get less blood supply. This physiological
fact can be found in many medical textbooks. As Professor Newton from
the University of Southern California Medical Center recently reported,
“cerebral blood flow decreases 2% for every mm Hg decrease in CO2”
(Newton, 2004). That means that with each second decrease in the
oxygenation index, blood flow to the brain is less by about 1%. Less
blood means a decreased supply of glucose (the main fuel for the brain
in normal conditions), oxygen, and other nutrients. In addition, it
causes gradual accumulation of waste products in tissues.
** The suppressed Bohr effect. As we know, oxygen is transported by
hemoglobin containing red blood cells. How do these red blood cells know where
in the body to release more oxygen and where less? Why do they unload more
oxygen in those places where more is required? Hemoglobin containing red blood
cells sense higher concentrations of CO2 and release oxygen in these locations.
This effect strongly depends on the absolute CO2 values in the blood and the
If CO2 concentration is low, O2 is held tightly on the red blood cells.
(Scientists call this effect “increased oxygen affinity to hemoglobin”).
Hence, hyperventilation which results in CO2 deficiency leads to hypoxia or
low oxygenation of the body cells (the suppressed Bohr effect). The more we
breathe at rest, the less the oxygenation of our cells in vital organs like
the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, etc.
Not only is the inflow of oxygen less (due to vasoconstriction), but also
its release is hampered by low CO2 concentrations (the Bohr effect). That
further reduces brain oxygenation.
Do clinical studies show that patients with mental or
psychological problems have heavy breathing?
In 1976 the British Journal of Psychiatry published a study of
CO2 measurements in 60 patients with neurotic depression and
non-retarded endogenous depression (Mora et al, 1976). All patients had
abnormally low carbon dioxide values.
Later, in 1990, American psychiatrists from (City University
of New York) reported results from several groups of subjects with
anxiety, panic phobia, depression, migraine, and idiopathic seizures.
The abstract states “virtually all the non-control subjects were found
to show moderate to severe hyperventilation and accompanying EEG
dysrhythmia” (Fried et al, 1990). In addition, it notes that
hyperventilation and abnormal electrical signals in the brain took
Canadian scientists from the Department of Psychiatry
(University of Manitoba, Winnipeg) measured carbon dioxide
concentrations in over 20 patients with panic disorder. Their average
CO2 was also below the medical norm (Asmundson and Stein, 1994). There
are many other studies that report abnormally low CO2 values for people
with various psychological and neurological problems.
Is hyperventilation the cause of these health problems?
There is not any evidence showing that people with normal breathing
parameters suffer from neurological or psychological problems. All available
research indicates that all patients with depression, schizophrenia, phobias,
panic attacks, ADD, ADHD, addictions, sleeping problems, etc. have abnormal
breathing pattern manifested in chronic hyperventilation. This suggests that
hyperventilation is (at least partially) a cause of, rather than a result of,
How to get more oxygen to your brain?
If you normalize your breathing, your breath holding time will be about 40-60
s (corresponding to abundant oxygen in the body and the brain), and your health
problems related to the brain or the central nervous system will disappear.
Russian Doctor KP Buteyko, MD developed the medical self-oxygenation therapy
known as "the Buteyko method". He trained about 200 MDs to use the Buteyko
oxygenation therapy in practice. The prime goal of this therapy is to normalize
breathing and body oxygenation. Normal breathing is invisible and inaudible. It
is light and relaxed: we take tiny or small inhalation and immediately relax for
a longer exhalation, then again we take a small inhalation. Normal breathing
provides the human body with superior oxygenation and naturally eliminates many
Healthy lifestyle factors
exercise with strictly nasal breathing
- Good posture (straight spine 24/7)
- Learning diaphragmatic breathing
- Forgiveness, acceptance, and silent prayer; peace-making, good will,
cooperation, calmness, composure, self-discipline, perseverance,
commitment, and responsibility
- More time outdoors (especially for the aged)
- Eating, only when really hungry, and stopping in time
- Going to bed for sleep, only when really sleepy, and getting out of
the bed after waking up in the morning; sleeping on hard beds
- Raw vegetarian diet (only if very well chewed)
- Moderation in pleasures
- Cold shower (with certain rules), barefoot walking, massage
- Some breathing techniques (DIY breathing device, Buteyko
method, Frolov breathing device, Strelnikova paradoxical
breathing gymnastic, correctly done Pranayama, etc.)
Lifestyle risk factors
- Lack of
- Mouth breathing (including sleep and physical
exercise, unless you are superfit)
- Sleeping on one’s back
- Psychological stress, anger, revenge, greed, envy, jealousy,
laziness, and strong emotions
- Overeating (especially of animal proteins)
- Lack of essential nutrients and junk foods
- Abnormal gut flora (manifested in: the “soiling” effect or the need
to use toilet paper)
- Talkativeness and deep breathing exercises (except very slow ones,
e.g., with 1-2 breaths/min so that to get more CO2)
- Sighing, coughing, sneezing and yawning with large air movements or
- Excesses and addictions (smoking, street drugs, gambling, too much
alcohol, caffeine, sex, etc.)