Sedatives | CO2: Natural Sedative and Tranquilizer
"Sedative" (adjective) means "having a soothing or calming effect; reducing anxiety, stress, excitement or irritability". As a noun the term "sedative" means an agent or a drug that produces a soothing, calming, or tranquilizing effect.
While considering mental health of people, the most missing chemical in the human brain is CO2 (see studies below), while oxygen is another required sedative substance. CO2 is a powerful natural sedative and tranquilizer. In addition, CO2 supplies O2 for the body cells, brain cells included.
Medical research studies have clearly proven that modern people breathe at rest about 2 times more air than the medical norm (see the historical chart below).
Cell hypoxia leads to anaerobic respiration and accumulation of waste products in brain tissues. Hence, oxygen is another natural agent that have sedative brain effects.
The physiological norm for minute ventilation was established about 100 years ago and it was also the norm for ordinary people at those times.
Since modern people breathe about twice more, they have less CO2 in their brains, though both oxygen and carbon dioxide is crucial for the stability and normal work of nerves.
Normal CO2 concentrations create conditions for the normal work of the nervous system. While hypocapnia (low CO2 level) is one of the most common breathing disorders in the sick and it naturally leads to anxiety.
More than five decades ago, one of the world's leading physiological magazines, Physiological Reviews, published an extensive research article, "Physiological effects of hyperventilation". In this article, Dr. Brown (the Department of Physiology at the University of Kansas Medical Center; USA) provided an analysis of almost 300 professional physiological and medical studies. When considering the effects of carbon dioxide deficiency on the nerve cells, he stated, “Studies designed to determine the effects produced by hyperventilation on nerve and muscle have been consistent in their finding on increased irritability” (Brown, 1953). Muscles and nerve cells become abnormally sensitive or irritated due to a lack of this natural sedative.
In 1965 the Journal of Physiology (another leading physiological magazine) published the article titled "Cortical CO2 tension and neuronal excitability". It was shown that CO2 has a strong calming effect on the excessive excitability of brain areas responsible for thinking (Krnjevic et al, 1965).
In 1988 physiologists from Duke University (Durham, the UK) suggested in their summary, “The brain, by regulating breathing, controls its own excitability” (Balestrino & Somjen, 1988).
Do modern physiologists have different conclusions?
According to a recent study of Finnish scientists from the Laboratory of Neurology of the University of Joensuu, hyperventilation "leads to spontaneous and asynchronous firing of cortical neurons" (Huttunen et. al, 1999). The study was published in the Experimental Brain Research. Note that scientific research studies found that overbreathing is present in 100% of people with chronic disorders (see links with dozens of studies below).
Hence, instead of normal perception and stability, which is characterized by the objective reflection and analysis of reality, the brain starts to generate its own “spontaneous and asynchronous” ideas, projects, explanations, and interpretations of real events. Moreover, an excited brain can create problems that, in reality, do not exist.
Anxiety, fear, panic attacks, and many other negative emotions and states naturally appear in people who have breathing disorders (breathing problems or difficulties), while CO2 is natural sedative and tranquilizer of nerve cells. It is crucial for the stability and normal work of nerves, and the treatment and prevention of anxiety, stress, insomnia, phobias, and many other mental health problems.
Furthermore, these calmative effects of carbon dioxide were known to dozens of medical professionals who applied CO2 for the treatment and prevention of epilepsy seizures and sleep seizures.
The key natural sedative and perception of the outer world
Normal perception requires a calm brain so that our senses and nerve cells can freely transmit correct information for objective analysis. In other words, we need minimal abnormal interference from our nervous system (self-generated signals) during the process of communication and analysis.
Hyperventilation, on the other hand, plays a key role in our immediate reaction to stress or in an emergency situation when our well-being or life is in danger. At such moments we do not need the objective world. We need to save/fight for our lives. Hence our minds need threats, enemies, stress sources or outside problems to deal with.
Sometimes an obvious or visible threat is absent (no enemies or threats are seen). Then the excited brain can invent threats literally from nothing due to “spontaneous and asynchronous firing of cortical neurons” (see above). Hence, when we breathe more, we have a tendency to experience anxiety and search for threats, enemies, problems, etc.
Related web page:
- Anxiety Breathing Disorders.
Reference pages: Breathing norms and the DIY body oxygen test:
- Breathing norms: Parameters, graph, and description of the normal breathing pattern
- Body-oxygen test (CP test) : How to measure your own breathing and body oxygenation (two in one) using a simple DIY test
References: pages about CO2 effect:
- Vasodilation: CO2 expands arteries and arterioles facilitating perfusion (or blood supply) to all vital organs
- The Bohr effect: How and why oxygen is released by red blood cells in body tissues
- Nerve stabilization: Carbon dioxide has powerful calmative and sedative effects on brain neurons and nerve cells
References (CO2: natural or body-made sedative and tranquilizer of nerve cells)
Balestrino M, Somjen GG, Concentration of carbon dioxide, interstitial pH and synaptic transmission in hippocampal formation of the rat, J Physiol 1988, 396: p. 247-266. - “... The brain, by regulating breathing, controls its own excitability...”
Brown EB, Physiological effects of hyperventilation, Physiol Reviews 1953 Oct, 33 (4): p. 445-471. - “Studies designed to determine the effects produced by hyperventilation on nerve and muscle have been consistent in their finding on increased irritability”
Davis H, Pascual W, Rice LH (1928), Quantitative studies of the nerve impulse. Amer. J. Physiol. 86, 706-724.
Huttunen J, Tolvanen H, Heinonen E, Voipio J, Wikstrom H, Ilmoniemi RJ, Hari R, Kaila K, Effects of voluntary hyperventilation on cortical sensory responses. Electroencephalographic and magnetoencephalographic studies, Exp Brain Res 1999, 125(3): p. 248-254. - Hyperventilation ... "leads to spontaneous and asynchronous firing of cortical neurons".
Krnjevic K, Randic M and Siesjo B, Cortical CO2 tension and neuronal excitability, J of Physiol 1965, 176: p. 105-122. - In section "Changes in membrane resting potentials": "Hypercapnia was associated with an increase in resting potential and the period of falling Pco2, with depolarization..." "Cortical cells are remarkably sensitive to variations in PCo2; even changes of the order of 1-2 mm Hg may be sufficient to produce a clear alteration in their excitability. On the whole, the main effect of hypercapnia is depressant...." "There is general agreement that an increase in Pco2, tends to reduce the excitability of vertebrate nerve fibres (Davis, Pascual & Rice, 1928; Necheles & Gerard, 1930; Lorente de No, 1947) probably by raising the membrane potential (Lorente de No, 1947; Shanes, 1948)."
Lorente DE (1947), A study of nerve physiology. Stud. Rockefeller Inst. med. Res. 131, pp. 148-193.
Necheles H & Gererd RW (1930), The effect of carbon dioxide on nerve, Amer. J. Physiol. 93, 318-336.\
Shanes AM (1948), Metabolic changes of the resting potential in relation to the action of carbon dioxide, Amer. J. Physiol. 153, 93-108.
References (Effects of hypocapnia on neurological symptoms and mental states)
Allen TE, Agus B. (1968) Hyperventilation leading to hallucinations. Am J Psychiatry 1968;125:632-7.
Bonn JA, Readhead CP, Timmons BH. Enhanced adaptive behavioural response in agoraphobic patients pretreated with breathing retraining. Lancet 1982;ii: 665-9.
Garssen B, Van Veenendaal W, Bloemink R. Agoraphobia and the hyperventilation syndrome. Behav Res Ther 1983;21:643-9.
Hibbert GA, Hyperventilation as a cause of panic attacks, Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1984 January 28; 288(6413): 263–264.
Ker WJ, Dalton JW, Gliebe PA. Some physical phenomena associated with the anxiety states and their relation to hyperventilation. Ann Intern Med 1937; 2: 962.
Ley R. Agoraphobia, the panic attack and the hyperventilation syndrome. Behav Res Ther 1985; 23: 79-81.
Lum LC. Hyperventilation and anxiety states. JR Soc Med 1981; 74: 1-4.
Magarian G. Hyperventilation syndromes: infrequently recognized common expressions of anxiety and stress. Medicine 1982; 61: 219-336.
Salkovskis PM, Warwick HMC, Clark DM, Wessells DJ. A demonstration of acute hyperventilation during naturally occurring panic attacks. Behav Res Ther 1986; 34: 91-4.
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* Illustrations by Victor Lunn-Rockliffe
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