Breathing Series: Balance between Oxygen and Carbon-Di-Oxide

In school, we learnt that we take in oxygen (O2) and exhale carbon-di-oxide (CO2). We were told that oxygen is what we need to survive and the carbon-di-oxide we exhale, is the waste and is not preferred by our bodies.

It’s been a few decades since I have been at school, but the topics have not gone far. In this post, I will tell you why we need to have both O2 and CO2 and the balance that exists between them. Finally, I will link incorrect breathing as a direct cause for creating imbalances in our body, and therefore the need to breathe properly.

First, let us understand the chemistry that happens inside our lungs – O2 going in CO2 going out.

We need oxygen for burning the fuel to sustain us. The fuel that is burnt is mostly carbon. Chemically carbon when mixed with oxygen gives rise to carbon-di-oxide. And this carbon-di-oxide comes out of our lungs when we exhale.

Think of it like an automobile or a house. You have air filters connected to the engine to suck in fresh air or air filters for your home – like the noses that filter air and the lungs that harvest the oxygen in the air. The oxygen in the air essentially helps in the combustion of the fuel (petrol or diesel, which are carbon based) in the automobile engine or push the air around the house. And the exhaust or the waste matter coming out of combustion is mostly composed of carbon-di-oxide. FYI – the chemical that comes out of the exhaust when combustion is not complete is carbon monoxide (CO) or the air leaves the house through windows via circulation.

Now, let us understand the balance.

It is not necessarily true that our body totally rejects carbon-di-oxide and requires oxygen alone. There is a particular balance between the oxygen and the carbon-di-oxide that needs to be maintained in the cells in our lungs. The cells in our lungs, called alveoli should ideally contain 6.5% of CO2. If the composition of CO2 varies – either up or down, it can be a cause of a number of illnesses.

If there is a lack of oxygen in our lungs, we feel shortness of breath – which is simple to be identified and supplemented. Excess CO2 makes our blood acidic and a foray of sicknesses like weakness and lethargic feeling sets in.

If there is an excess of oxygen in our lungs, which is a good probability, it creates an imbalance in our lungs and this imbalance prevents oxygen from getting into the tissues from the bloodstream. This in turn becomes the harbinger of these ill effects:

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion and blurred vision as sufficient oxygen does not get into our brain cells
  • Increase in heart rate, stiffness, numbness and tingling of extremities as sufficient oxygen does not get into different parts of our body
  • Sweaty, hot and excessive yawns
  • Tired and exhausted due to general lack of oxygen

Do you know the reason for the imbalance between oxygen and carbon-di-oxide?

It comes down to how we breathe.

A normal person must breathe 14 times a minute. Typically, people are accustomed to the wrong way of breathing – quick fast breaths.

Fast breathing results in inhalation of surplus oxygen and therefore end in excess carbon-di-oxide leaving our body, and causing the imbalance.

What is the remedy?

You know it. Follow the diaphragmatic breathing (part 1 and part 2), which helps you retain the balance and helps you stay healthy. The entire series on breathing focuses on the right way to breathe, and highlights all the malicious conditions that set in due to lack of it.

To conclude, it is not expected to know the intrinsic balance between oxygen and carbon-di-oxide, but rather be aware of the right process to breathe.

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