Did you know that each one of us takes an average of 25,000 breaths daily?
But are we really breathing?
Our breathing habits have a greater effect on our overall health than we may think.
Breathing is important as our cells constantly need a new supply of oxygen to produce energy. Without vital oxygen, cellular function is impaired and cells can be damaged. Our autonomic nervous system controls many bodily functions and breathing is just one of those functions.
Most of us spend the day shallow breathing into the lower lobes, just one of the three compartments of the lungs. Or worse, holding our breath! I find that I hold my breath often and need to be more conscious of it. That means that only a small amount of air is taken in and provides a very minimal amount of oxygen. And that small amount of oxygen needs to circulate and nourish every cell in our entire body.
The diaphragm is a muscle located at the base of the lungs that sits between the abdominal cavity and the thoracic cavity. This large, dome-shaped muscle gives us power to fill and empty our lungs. The most efficient way possible to breathe is by properly engaging the diaphragm. This requires less work from the body than chest breathing.
Chest breathing or shallow breathing is how too many people today are breathing. When we breathe in this way, it sets off the sympathetic nervous system– the branch of the nervous system that is responsible for Fight or Flight, and sends a signal to the body that we are in danger. This causes us to be in a state of stress. Which basically makes us super sick.
The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite of the sympathetic and prepares the body for Rest and Digest. This allows time to recover from stressors that cannot be avoided and gives our digestive system the chance to properly extract nutrients from our food. When we utilize diaphragmatic breathing, we can engage the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce stress on our body.
Whether experiencing emotional stress or physical stress like pain, the body responds by engaging the sympathetic nervous system and pumps hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. This type of physical reaction is tied to health problems like cardiovascular disease, insomnia, high blood pressure, indigestion, increased infections and autoimmune disease. It also contributes to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Abnormal breathing may not simply be habitual. There are cases when anatomical abnormalities can cause breathing problems from infancy well into adulthood.
Tethered Oral Tissue
If you are a new mama, you should be aware of tongue and lip ties, also known as tethered oral tissue (TOT). There has been a focus recently on the impact of oral function in relation to breastfeeding. To prevent long-term health problems, early diagnosis and treatment is important. Symptoms of TOT typically emerge as an infant tries to breastfeed, but not always. Problems such as trouble latching, falling off the breast regularly, clicking sounds while nursing, constant crying from not getting enough milk, mouth breathing or frequent nursing sessions can all be signs of TOT. Some babies who are tethered nurse just fine. They may not have issues with speech or breathing but it may not present until later in life.
Tethered oral tissue does not go away or correct itself. It’s more likely that a person compensates for the restricted motion. This can result in problems chewing, swallowing, breastfeeding, can affect speech development, and can contribute to poor dental hygiene.
However, broader consequences of untreated tethered oral tissue can be sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, sinus problems, asthma, allergies, frequent ear infections, and ADHD.
Who knew that difficulty breastfeeding could lead to so many complications for children and adults?
A recent study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Research found that tethered oral tissue causes sleep apnea in children. These children had symptoms of a sleep breathing disorder, including snoring, inferior quality of sleep, and daytime fatigue. As many as 27 of these children were found to have some form of tethered oral tissue.
When a person has a disorder such as sleep apnea, breathing becomes interrupted when lying down. People with sleep apnea experience a collapse of soft tissue in the airway restricting oxygen and depriving the body of the rest that occurs during the normal sleep cycle.
A link between ADD/ADHD and spectrum disorder has been indicated as well for children who do not rest properly while sleeping.
Breathing properly sends oxygen flooding into every single cell of the body. This includes some of our most vital organs such as:
The brain – Using about 20% of the oxygen we consume. When there’s a shortage of oxygen, the brain will work slower, and since the brain regulates a lot of other functions in the body, these are also affected.
The heart – Constantly active and beating the heart is a massive consumer of oxygen and shortage in supply means the heart can’t pump out blood as efficiently.
The muscles – Oxygen shortage hurts stamina as the muscles go stiff, tense and tire faster.
How can we improve our quality of breath and improve our health?
- Address Leaky Gut – One study found that women with a family history of allergies who were given acidophilus during pregnancy, had a 50% decrease in the likelihood of their baby to develop asthma and allergies. This is just one simple example of improving gut health. Other treatments include removing offensive foods and having food allergy/sensitivity testing performed.
- Check for Tethered Oral Tissue – Seeing an IBCLC while breastfeeding is always encouraged but especially if you are having any difficulty breastfeeding or your infant is showing signs of tethered oral tissue. Diagnosis and releasing of the tissue early can support a healthy life into adulthood. Highly trained chiropractors like myself can detect ties and refer out to colleagues.
- Breathe Fully – Breathing fully by engaging the diaphragm will allow proper oxygenation of the body, revitalizing organs, cells, and tissues. You can practice diaphragmatic breathing by placing your hands on your abdomen. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four and picture your belly as a balloon inflating. Your hands should rise as your abdomen fills with air. Hold the breath for four seconds. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth, counting to four. Picture letting the air out of your belly balloon and your hands should go down as your abdomen deflates.
- Exercise – Regular exercise can increase the strength and function of your lungs, making them more efficient. Working out also improves circulation and strengthens the heart muscle.
- Stimulate the Vagus Nerve – Diaphragmatic breathing itself stimulates the vagus nerve. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, elicited by the vagus nerve, literally gives you the breath of life
- by telling your lungs to breathe. You can keep this vital nerve in top performance by meditating, praying, chanting, laughing, with chiropractic adjustments, E.F.T. tapping, and blowing bubbles.
- Posture – Sitting or standing tall gives our lungs the perfect opportunity to fully intake air without any restrictions. This can yield the greatest amount of oxygen per breath.
- Chiropractic Adjustments – Correcting misalignments in the spine helps alleviate breathing restrictions. One study showed that lung vital capacity was greater in patients after chiropractic adjustments.
So many of us breathe in a way that leaves a lot of room for improvement. If you’re not taking proper breaths, you could be missing out on one of the simplest ways to drastically improve your health.
Trying these easy suggestions could lead to a greater overall state of well-being.
What have you got to lose?