Pathological Reflexes: Hyperventilation & Main Primitive Reflexes
A reflex is an involuntary and almost instantaneous (muscular) reaction in response to a stimulus. Among all primitive and pathological reflexes, hyperventilation is the main primitive reflex of the nervous system. This autonomic pathological reflex is highly prevalent these days in a chronic form: chronic hyperventilation is present in over 99% of subjects with diseases.
Minute ventilation rates (chronic diseases)
| All references or
click below for abstracts
|Normal breathing||6 L/min||-||Medical textbooks|
|Healthy Subjects||6-7 L/min||>400||Results of 14 studies|
|Heart disease||15 (+-4) L/min||22||Dimopoulou et al, 2001|
|Heart disease||16 (+-2) L/min||11||Johnson et al, 2000|
|Heart disease||12 (+-3) L/min||132||Fanfulla et al, 1998|
|Heart disease||15 (+-4) L/min||55||Clark et al, 1997|
|Heart disease||13 (+-4) L/min||15||Banning et al, 1995|
|Heart disease||15 (+-4) L/min||88||Clark et al, 1995|
|Heart disease||14 (+-2) L/min||30||Buller et al, 1990|
|Heart disease||16 (+-6) L/min||20||Elborn et al, 1990|
|Pulm hypertension||12 (+-2) L/min||11||D'Alonzo et al, 1987|
|Cancer||12 (+-2) L/min||40||Travers et al, 2008|
|Diabetes||12-17 L/min||26||Bottini et al, 2003|
|Diabetes||15 (+-2) L/min||45||Tantucci et al, 2001|
|Diabetes||12 (+-2) L/min||8||Mancini et al, 1999|
|Diabetes||10-20 L/min||28||Tantucci et al, 1997|
|Diabetes||13 (+-2) L/min||20||Tantucci et al, 1996|
|Asthma||13 (+-2) L/min||16||Chalupa et al, 2004|
|Asthma||15 L/min||8||Johnson et al, 1995|
|Asthma||14 (+-6) L/min||39||Bowler et al, 1998|
|Asthma||13 (+-4) L/min||17||Kassabian et al, 1982|
|Asthma||12 L/min||101||McFadden, Lyons, 1968|
|COPD||14 (+-2) L/min||12||Palange et al, 2001|
|COPD||12 (+-2) L/min||10||Sinderby et al, 2001|
|COPD||14 L/min||3||Stulbarg et al, 2001|
|Sleep apnea||15 (+-3) L/min||20||Radwan et al, 2001|
|Liver cirrhosis||11-18 L/min||24||Epstein et al, 1998|
|Hyperthyroidism||15 (+-1) L/min||42||Kahaly, 1998|
|Cystic fibrosis||15 L/min||15||Fauroux et al, 2006|
|Cystic fibrosis||10 L/min||11||Browning et al, 1990|
|Cystic fibrosis*||10 L/min||10||Ward et al, 1999|
|CF and diabetes*||10 L/min||7||Ward et al, 1999|
|Cystic fibrosis||16 L/min||7||Dodd et al, 2006|
|Cystic fibrosis||18 L/min||9||McKone et al, 2005|
|Cystic fibrosis*||13 (+-2) L/min||10||Bell et al, 1996|
|Cystic fibrosis||11-14 L/min||6||Tepper et al, 1983|
|Epilepsy||13 L/min||12||Esquivel et al, 1991|
|CHV||13 (+-2) L/min||134||Han et al, 1997|
|Panic disorder||12 (+-5) L/min||12||Pain et al, 1991|
|Bipolar disorder||11 (+-2) L/min||16||MacKinnon et al, 2007|
|Dystrophia myotonica||16 (+-4) L/min||12||Clague et al, 1994|
Note that advanced stages of asthma can lead to lung destruction, ventilation-perfusion mismatch,
and arterial hypercapnia causing further reduction in body oxygen levels.
Note that breathing more air at rest reduces oxygen levels in cells of the body.
During evolution of life on Earth, most of the time our lungs were developing and evolving in conditions when the CO2 content in outer air was very high: up to 7-12% during the first stages of lung development in primitive creatures living 2-3 billion years ago. Oxygen content in primitive air was very low (about 1% or less during the first stages of evolution before and after appearance of green cells with chlorophyll). During these stages of evolution the process of control of breathing by the autonomic nervous system was also developed. Since this primitive air had very little O2 and high CO2, our evolutionary predecessors could get more oxygen in tissues only by breathing more. Therefore, breathing more air in the past was beneficial for survival.
Composition of air in atmosphere (past and now) and cells of the human body
Any stressful situation, fight, flight, search for food, digestion, mating, playing, and any other activity required more oxygen. How? By breathing more. Hence, hyperventilation became the most fundamental primitive reflex of the autonomic nervous system, as soon as first lungs (or prototypes of human lungs) appeared on Earth. Only totally peaceful, stress-free rest had low metabolic rates when heavy breathing could not provide any advantages for survival.
Effects of air changes on pathological reflexes
However, the modern air composition is very different: modern air is hyperoxic (too much oxygen as leading respirologist agree) and almost no CO2. Therefore, from being advantageous, hyperventilation became the main pathological reflex since it reduces O2 levels in body cells. It is unlikely that there are any other equally destructive pathological reflexes.
This pathological reflex to hyperventilate is now more fundamental for humans than all other pathological reflexes, instincts and drives: to drink, eat, mate, and other primitive reflexes. Why is it so? This is because when the human baby is born, the first things it starts to do is to breathe deeply as if expecting that air has very little O2 and a lot of CO2. (All developing or survived human cultures and tribes have used swaddling of infants to ensure their survival and good health, as we discussed before.)
Most sick people (over 90%) die due to the same pathological reflex of the autonomic nervous system: hyperventilation. This primitive reflex again gains control over the human brain and autonomous nervous system during last days/weeks of life. As a result, the dying sufferers frantically gasp for more air, as if expecting to get more oxygen (see Heavy Breathing Pattern - Highest Mortality Rates). Hence, hyperventilation is the main among in-built primitive pathological reflexes of the autonomous nervous system.
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