Hyperventilation: Primitive Pathological Reflex
A reflex is an involuntary and almost instantaneous (muscular) reaction in response to a stimulus. Among all pathological reflexes and primitive reflexes, hyperventilation is one of the central primitive reflexes of the nervous system. This reflex is highly prevalent these days in a chronic form:
chronic hyperventilation is present in over 90% of normal subjects and even more
common in disease (see the Homepage for charts and clinical results).
Most of the time, our lungs were developing and evolving in
primitive conditions when the CO2 content in air was high (up to 7-12% during the
first stages of lungs' development) and low O2 values
(about 1% or less during the first stages). During these stages of
evolution the process
of control of breathing by the nervous system was developed. Since this
primitive air had very little O2, our evolutionary predecessors could get
more oxygen in tissues only by breathing more air. Later, during a gradual decline in CO2 content and increased O2 levels, the situation radically changed. Breathing more air causes reduced oxygen delivery to cells in modern conditions.
Composition of air in atmosphere and cells of the human body
Any stressful situation, digestion, search for food, mating, playing, and any
other activity required more oxygen. How? By breathing more. Hence,
hyperventilation became the most fundamental primitive reflex,
as soon as first lungs (or
prototypes of human lungs) appeared on Earth. Only totally peaceful stress-free
rest had low metabolic rate where heavy breathing would not provide any
advantage for survival.
The reflex to hyperventilate, as it is easy to notice is even more fundamental
for humans than the drives to drink, eat, mate, and other primitive
reflexes. Why? 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: hyperventilation, when this primitive
reflex again gains the control over the human brain and nervous system, and 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 in-built primitive reflex
of the nervous system.
For the list of the quoted references click here
Stimulus (physiology) (From Wikipedia.org)
Causes of Hyperventilation (From WebMD.com)
Hyperventilation (From Medlineplus.gov)
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