LESS Breath: Better Health? | Mouth Breathing vs. Nasal Breathing


The hit Netflix series “Stranger Things”
has done a great service to its viewers. While it has an excellent story with a good
sense of mystery, humor, horror and a loveable cast, what I’m talking about is… “Mouth breather,
mouth breather, I was tripped by this mouth breather Troy,
OK? Mouth breather? Yea, you know, a dumb person?” This phrase actually only comes up 3 times,
but hopefully it made viewers more aware of how they are breathing throughout the day. As the character Will explains, Mouth Breather
refers to a “dumb person,” But is it because leaving your mouth open
just looks dumb or you could say the person is dumb for not being aware of their own face,
or does breathing through the mouth actually decrease intelligence somehow? Actually, there is evidence that simply taking
air into the mouth rather than the nose can result in reduced IQ. A systematic review of medical literature
done by the Federal University Sergipe in Brazil found that after applying certain criteria
“Overall, 80% of the articles showed a higher incidence of learning disabilities among mouth
breathers,” concluding that “This systematic review has shown that mouth breathers are
more likely to have learning difficulties than nasal breathers.” In the book “Adenoids and Diseased Tonsils:
Their Effect on General Intelligence” by Margaret Rogers, she quotes a H. Addington
Bruce saying “mouth-breathing means difficult breathing, and this in turn means deficient
oxygenation of the tissues, with a resultant lowering of vital activities generally and
of the activity of the brain in particular.” George Catlin, author of the 1869 book “Shut
your mouth and save your life” stresses the importance of breathing through your nose
at ALL times, while awake or sleeping. He says “there is no perfect sleep for man
or brute, with the mouth open; it is unnatural, and a strain upon the lungs” and he describes
how impressed he was to see a Native American woman gently press on the lips of her baby
to keep its mouth closed while sleeping. But how could simply getting Oxygen from one
route rather than another be so important that it affect your cognitive ability or anything
else? Well, the nose is extremely complex and takes
up much more space than just the knob in the middle of your face. That’s only only 30% of it and the other
70% of the nasal cavity is deep within the skull. While smell is a very important sense, it
wouldn’t be necessary to allocate all that real estate unless the nose had other important
responsibilities. When someone breathes through the mouth, they
are bypassing several critical functions of the nose. To name a few, the nose filters, warms and
moistens the air you breathe to make it more suitable for your lungs. Nasal breathing also increases levels of nitric
oxide, a key signaling molecule used throughout the body. Another very important function of the nose
is that it regulates airflow and helps prevent overbreathing. So how can you ‘over breathe’? Well, breathing in and out more air than is
necessary results in hypocapnia, or a state of reduced carbon dioxide in the blood. This is why people breathe into a paper bag
when hyperventilating from intense stress or an anxiety attack. The excessive breathing depleted too much
carbon dioxide, so the bag helps trap that carbon dioxide they are exhaling and keep
it in the body until their carbon dioxide blood levels and breathing rhythm return to
normal. And here is a key point in why mouth breathing
can affect people’s intelligence. Breathing through the mouth during the day
or while you’re asleep not only means the air is not conditioned by the nasal cavity,
but you tend to exhale too much carbon dioxide, meaning your tissues are actually getting
less oxygen. Each 2.5% drop in the partial pressure of
arterial carbon dioxide reduces blood flow to the brain by 2%.” In other words, oxygenation of your brain
significantly decreases when you breathe too much. The loss of carbon dioxide from improper breathing
isn’t drastic enough to be easily noticeable, but over time the habit can take its toll
on the brain and body. But this is a bit counter intuitive. How could taking in more air through a bigger
passage – the mouth, lead to less oxygenation of your tissues? People mainly think of oxygen when discussing
breathing, but Carbon Dioxide is a key factor in this equation. As Patrick McKeown, author of the Oxygen advantage
explains, “The amount of Oxygen, your muscles, organs and tissues are able to use is not
entirely dependent on the amount of oxygen in your blood. Our red blood cells are almost always saturated
with between 95 and 99% oxygen and that’s plenty for even the most strenuous exercise.” So, since your red blood cells are already
saturated with oxygen, taking in more oxygen with big breaths isn’t going to do anything. What is important, is getting that Oxygen
out of the red blood cells so it can be used by the body. And Carbon Dioxide is what allows the release
of oxygen from the red blood cells. This physiological phenomenon is called the
Bohr effect, it was first described in 1904 by Christian Bohr and it states that “hemoglobin’s
oxygen binding affinity is inversely related both to acidity and to the concentration of
carbon dioxide.” Hemoglobin is the protein inside red blood
cells that carries oxygen. An increase in carbon dioxide decreases blood
pH and hemoglobin proteins release their load of oxygen so it can be used by the muscles
and organs. A decrease in carbon dioxide increases pH
and causes haemoglobin to hold on to more oxygen. That is, the oxygen stays stuck to the hemoglobin
so it’s not available for your tissues to use. If you’re taking large breaths through the
mouth, you’re going to exhale and lose a proportionally large amount of precious carbon
dioxide. Patrick McKeown explains that if we breathe
a lower volume of air by breathing in a slow controlled fashion through the nose, we increase
the amount of carbon dioxide inside us and can deliver more oxygen to our muscles and
organs, including the heart and the brain. Scott Jurek is one of the most dominant ultramarathon
runners in the world, winning many of the sport’s prestigious race events multiple
times. He won the 100-mile Western States Endurance
Run seven consecutive times. In his memoir “Eat and Run” he says: “One
of the most important things you can do … is to breathe abdominally, and a good way to
learn that skill is to practice nasal breathing.” The Tarahumara native Indians of Mexico are
able to run up to 62 miles a day, twice that of a typical elite athlete. Studies of the Tarahumara show that they breathe
almost entirely through the nose. Of course there are other factors that allow
them to accomplish such impressive feats of endurance, but this is an excellent display
of nasal breathing during athletic performance. Anthropologist Wade Davis has studied and
lived with fifteen groups of indigenous people, including tribal hunters of the Amazon. While staying with the tribe, Davis was allowed
to accompany them on hunting expeditions. Hunts began in the morning and they would
persistently chase animals at a jogging and running pace over many hours. After a while the animal would collapse from
exhaustion and they would kill it at short range.” Davis was most impressed by the fact that
these hunters never opened their mouths to breath during the hunt. To maintain proper carbon dioxide levels and
better facilitate the oxygenation of the body, you’ll want to lower the volume of air you
take in and out over time. What that means is while taking deep breaths
can be good, taking deep breaths quickly is not. Some well meaning yoga instructors may teach
that you should take deep breaths that expand the lungs, but fail to stress the importance
of having the breath be slow and controlled. In The Hathapradīpikạ, a seminal text of
Hatha yoga, compiled in the 15th century, one of the passages says:. “Just as lions, elephants and tigers are
calm and controlled, the breath too must be controlled by slow degrees. Hasty or forceful breath kills the practiser
himself.” In the animal world, mouth breathing is a
rarity to the extent that it is usually a sign of illness. Farmers know this; they will immediately know
if an animal is sick not by noticing whether it breathes through the mouth. Aside from dogs, who pant to regulate their
body temperature when they’re hot, most all land mammals breathe regularly through
their nose except in times of distress. In humans, chronic mouth breathing can lead
to cavities, gum disease, lowered immune function, digestive disturbances, poor sleep quality,
and can result in crooked teeth and even poorly developed facial structure. “During the 1960s, dentist Egil Harvold
conducted a number of experiments where young monkeys’ noses were blocked with silicone
nose plugs. This caused these monkeys to breathe through
the mouth and they gradually acquired a facial appearance different from the control monkeys. The mouth-breathing monkeys developed crooked
teeth, a lowered chin and other facial deformities. Essentially mouth breathing leads to a longer
face with a set back jaw, less pronounced cheekbones and restricted airways. I’ve sometimes wondered why most athletes
usually tend to be pretty good looking. I figured there would be an equal amount of
facially challenged athletes as there are attractive ones. Patrick McKeown argues that breathing plays
a role here too. Because the athletes had been breathing properly,
it set them up for better physical conditioning as a child meaning better sports performance,
and proper breathing supports the development of good facial structure. Now I’ve only covered some of the important
aspects of nasal breathing, Check out the book The Oxygen Advantage for an impressively
thorough exploration of this topic. But I’ll leave you with one important tip
to help get the most out of your breathing. Just put some micropore tape on your mouth
when you sleep. As weird and slightly scary as that may sound,
the quality of sleep you get from ensuring that you breathe through your nose, will definitely
be worth getting used to the tape. This has helped me personally, and even people
with asthma report that this drastically improves their quality of their sleep. Of course it’s best to avoid this if you
have certain medical conditions, or in certain situations like after drinking alcohol. After wearing the tape for about 3 months,
it should have you naturally breathing through your nose during sleep and improve your breathing
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Daniel Yohans

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