#37: 😮💨 Humans Are Chronic Mouth Breathers
& why we should switch to nasal breathing, ASAP.
This week’s newsletter is a deep dive into breath. Let me know if you like these deep dives by clicking the like button & commenting below.
James Nestor’s book Breath, The New Science of the Lost Art, dives into the science of breathing and the benefits of breathing through your nose. I read it and briefly wrote about it in Nina’s Notes #8 but one year later, I’m still obsessed with nasal breathing.
For more info on breath, I will be hosting an upcoming webinar with certified breath coach Oktay Özen on Thursday, June 22 at 7:30pm CET (1:30pm EST / 10:30am PST). We will cover techniques to improve your breathing, how breath can reduces stress and how changing the way you breath can lead to a longer and healthier life.
Join us by signing up here. It’s free!
💬 In this note:
😮💨 Humans Are Chronic Mouth Breathers
📚 For Blood And Money
⚡️ One More Reason to Love the Octopus
😮💨 Humans Are The Only Mouth Breathers in the Animal Kingdom
Of the 5,400 different species of mammals on the planet, humans have evolved to be the only species to routinely have misaligned jaws, overbites, underbites, and crooked teeth.
By examining the skulls of our human ancestors, you can see they had large noses, large jaws and perfectly straight teeth.
As humans evolved, we moved away from eating raw foods to eating cooked food. The soft, calorie-rich food we ate caused our brains to grow larger (awesome!). However as a result, our airways became more constricted, and our mouths became smaller and too crowded for our teeth.
In the colder climates, human noses evolved to be narrower and longer to more effectively heat up the air before it entered our lungs. In sunny and warm environments, humans adapted wider and flatter noses which are more effective at inhaling hot and humid air. Along the way, our larynx descended in the throat to accommodate the evolution of vocal communication.
A lowered larynx is less efficient and humans are the only species that can easily choke on food and die.
All of these changes due to the modernization of society has led to smaller noses with restricted nasal passages causing many humans to become mouth breathers.
Mouth breathing can cause poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream, often leading to high blood pressure, heart problems, sleep apnea and other medical issues.
The most important thing you can do to improve your breathing is to breathe through your nose.
The nose has a lot of key functions we don’t think about. As air passes through the sinuses, your nasal passages can stop the inhalation of allergens and also warm up and humidify the air before it gets to your lungs. These functions prepare the oxygen in the air to be easily absorbed by your bloodstream.
Without optimal use, nasal passages weaken which makes switching to exclusive nose-breathing difficult for chronic mouth-breathers. With practice your nasal passages can become stronger, making nasal breathing feel more natural.
What to do if you can’t breathe through your nose
In his book, Breath, The New Science of the Lost Art, author James Nestor suggests repairing the nose if breathing through your nose is challenging due to structural problems. He states,
"If a sink is clogged in your house, you find a way of clearing it as soon as possible. The nose needs to be considered in the same way. Some people need surgery."
However if you do not have any structural issues, consistently training your body to breathe through your nose can cause the airways to widen and thus make nasal breathing easier.
Our body makes energy from food and air in two ways, aerobic metabolism, a process that uses oxygen , and anaerobic metabolism, a process that does not use oxygen.
Energy from anaerobic processes is generated only with glucose which is quick and easy for our body to access. It’s a kind of backup system and a turbo boost when our body doesn’t have enough oxygen. But anaerobic energy is inefficient and can lead to the excess production of lactic acid.
When we run our cells aerobically with oxygen, we gain 16 times more energy efficiency over anaerobic metabolism.
The key for exercise and for life is to stay in that energy-efficient, clean-burning, oxygen-eating aerobic zone for the vast majority of time during exercise and at rest.
To stay in the aerobic zone, you need to monitor your heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate for exercise take the number 180 and subtract your age. For example, the maximum heart rate a 35 year old can withstand to stay in an aerobic state is 145 bpm. Long training sessions can happen below or at this heart rate, but exceeding it for too long can push your body too deep in the anaerobic zone.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) has been long considered a waste gas as a by-product of energy metabolism. However, recent research has discovered that CO2 is actually responsible for driving us to breathe while exercising.
The nagging need to breathe is activated from a cluster of neurons called the central chemoreceptors, located at the base of the brain stem. When we’re breathing too slowly and carbon dioxide levels rise, the central chemoreceptors monitor these changes and send alarm signals to the brain, telling our lungs to breathe faster and deeper.
When we are breathing too quickly, these chemoreceptors direct the body to breathe slower to increase carbon dioxide levels. This is how our bodies determine how fast and often we breathe, not by the amount of oxygen, but by the level of carbon dioxide.
Most importantly, without CO2 in our system, oxygen cannot be released by the blood. So there is a sensitive relationship between the two molecules.
Sometimes the activation of our chemoreceptors can trigger too early, especially when we are not breathing optimally. The most common reason humans have become so sensitive to CO2 is because most of us breathe too much.
Up to a quarter of the modern population suffers from serious chronic overbreathing.
The key to optimum breathing, and all the health, endurance, and longevity benefits that come with it, is to practice deeper inhales and exhales in a fewer number. To breathe, but to breathe less.
Slower, longer exhales mean higher carbon dioxide levels and with that bonus carbon dioxide, we gain a higher aerobic endurance.
The measurement of highest oxygen consumption, called VO2 max, is the best gauge of cardiorespiratory fitness. Training the body to breathe less actually increases VO2 max, which not only boosts athletic stamina but also helps us live longer and healthier lives.
Breathing less offers huge benefits! If athletes breathed less for several weeks, their muscles would adapt to tolerate more lactate accumulation. This would allow their bodies to pull more energy during states of heavy anaerobic stress and as a result, give them the ability to train harder and longer.
Many elite athletes claimed to have gained a boost in performance and blunted the symptoms of respiratory problems, simply by decreasing the volume of air in their lungs and increasing the carbon dioxide in their bodies.
Why is improving CO2 tolerance important?
It’s not just the physical benefits of increasing CO2 tolerance, there is also a close correlation to anxiety and our ability to manage stress. An increased tolerance for carbon dioxide allows us to have better control over the rate and depth of our breathing. Managing our nervous system is vital for health, well-being and mental & physical performance.
Increasing CO2 tolerance to reduce anxiety.
In situations that make us nervous or anxious, we get a rise in CO2 levels, which triggers the fight or flight response. Being in these situations often can cause an overactivation of our stress response. Our breathing becomes faster, we off-load more CO2 lowering the CO2 levels in our body. Repeatedly being in this stressful state can result in becoming less tolerant to CO2 making us want to over breathe.
Training our bodies to have a higher tolerance to CO2 can also build a tolerance to stress. This stress tolerance will help ensure your breathing rate doesn’t increase in situations that make us nervous, which can help reduce anxiety.
Increasing CO2 tolerance will help you physically by:
Dilating blood vessels, allowing more significant blood flow.
Increase the amount of oxygen that moves from the hemoglobin to the cells also known as the Bohr effect
Give us more time to absorb oxygen and helps our breathing pattern.
The book The Oxygen Advantage By Patrick McKeown is a another guide to improving your breathing and tolerance to carbon dioxide. Several youtube videos from The Cognitive Athlete teach McKeown’s methods to improve your CO2 tolerance.
So, what is the optimal breath?
First off, Slow it down.
Breathe in through your nose for about 5.5 seconds, then exhale through your nose for 5.5 seconds. That’s 5.5 breaths a minute for a total of about 5.5 liters of air.
You can practice this perfect breathing for a few minutes, or a few hours, and train yourself to be a more oxygen-efficient, healthier nose breather.
📚 Book of the Week
5 / 5 Stars
This book chronicles what it takes to bring a drug to the market and who really holds the puppet strings when it gets to Big Pharma. It’s the scientists and inventors who often get left behind, while the investors make billions.
⚡️ Check This Out
More reasons to love the Octopus, Octopus ink contains a cancer-killing compound.
The compound, ozopromide (OPC), has been replicated synthetically in the lab and been found to kill cancer cells but leave healthy cells alone.
Martín Samuel Hernández-Zazueta and his colleagues at the University of Sonora in México identified OPC in the ink sac of common octopuses (Octopus vulgaris) and tested its anti-cancer properties in cells from human breast, cervix, prostate and lung cancer.
They found that cancer cells treated with OPC resulted in the death of a significant portion of the cancer cells. The highest resulted in a 50% decrease in growth of lung cancer cells. OPC did not affect the nearby non-cancerous cells.
A major characteristic of cancer is rapid cell division. Most cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, target rapidly dividing cells. However they cannot differentiate between healthy or cancerous cells. Healthy cells that rapidly divide are hair follicles, skin cells and cells lining the gut and this inability of treatments to differentiate is what leads to collateral bodily damage and painful side effects from cancer treatments.
Another unwanted side effect cancer therapies, including immunotherapy, is inflammation. The team at the University of Sonora found that OPC actually reduced the production of inflammatory proteins around the cells, promoting better overall healing from the cell death.