“Over the oxygen supply of the body, carbon dioxide spreads its protecting wings”
The Bohr Effect is named after the Danish physiologist Christian Bohr. In 1904 he discovered how carbon dioxide – CO2 – helps cells, tissue, and organs get the oyxgen they need.
Before you can grasp the Bohr Effect you must forget what you think you know about breathing and oxygenation. Normally we think of breathing as
• inhaling oxygen – the “good stuff”
• exhaling carbon dioxide – the “bad stuff”
But this is too simple. Because it ignores the real reason we breathe. And it ignores how we get oxygen from the blood to where it is needed in the kidneys, liver, brain, etc.
So what is breathing, and what do we need from the air?
The air we breathe is a mixture of
• nitrogen – 78%
• oxygen O2 – 21%. Ample.
• carbon dioxide CO2 – 0.034% – Not nearly enough.
• traces of water vapor, argon, and various other components.
We need 200 times more CO2 than is in the air. Our lungs need 6.5% CO2 in order to absorb oxygen properly. We contain more CO2 than our environment. So if we over-breathe we will lose CO2. This would be OK if CO2 was just a waste gas. But far from it, we need CO2 for a whole host of vital body processes.
Why your body needs carbon dioxide – CO2
1. Helps absorb oxygen – CO2 helps separate oxygen from the hemoglobin in the blood. Our hemoglobin is already packed with oxygen – it’s 98% saturated. But without the proper level of CO2 this oxygen gets stuck in the red blood cells. It sounds strange. But the more you breathe, the less oxygen your tissues get.The role of the respiratory system is to maintain the proper ratio of oxygen to CO2. When this ratio is disturbed, a whole range of illnesses and defense mechanisms kick in.
2. Regulates the body’s pH – in the form of carbonic acid, CO2, shifts the pH towards acidic. If you’re deficient in CO2 this will weaken your immune system, making you vulnerable to allergies and viruses.
3. Relaxes smooth muscles – CO2 keeps the muscles in your gut, lungs and blood vessels dilated. Relaxed blood vessels help your brain and other organs get enough blood. Conversely a drop in CO2 constricts the blood vessels making the heart pump harder.
o Spasming blood vessels – cause migraine, angina, heart attack or stroke.
o Spasming lung tubes – cause wheezing, breathlessnesses, and tight chest.
4. Sedates and stabilises the nervous system. CO2 is a natural tranquiliser. So breathing too much literally gets on your nerves – giving you anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and even paranoia and other disorders that can blight lives and relationships.
The Buteyko Method corrects dysfunctional breathing to bring the carbon dioxide to oxygen ratio into balance.