Women at risk develop poor breathing habits

Poor breathing habits are likely a major contributing factor as to why 90% of those diagnosed with fibromyalgia and 75% of those diagnosed with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) are women. Read more in the article Your Breathing – a Powerful Tool for Pain Relief. Impaired breathing habits lead to lower levels of carbon dioxide. We all know about the blood pressure. It is measured in mmHg (millimeters of mercury) and 110-130 / 80 is considered a normal blood pressure range.

Carbon dioxide pressure is more important than blood pressure

However, carbon dioxide pressure is not as well known, mainly because it is difficult to measure. An optimal carbon dioxide pressure range between 40 and 45 mmHg and this is absolutely crucial for us to feel good. The reasons are several, where the most important ones are:

  • Controls the breathing. The carbon dioxide pressure controls, via the pH, our breathing, the body’s most important function. A lower pressure speeds up our breathing, and over time, makes it shallow.
  • Widens the blood vessels. An optimal carbon dioxide pressure keeps the blood vessels open, as carbon dioxide has a widening effect on the blood vessels. Lack of carbon dioxide impairs circulation and can lead to high or low blood pressure.
  • Widens the airways. Carbon dioxide widens the airways in the lungs, throat and nose. Getting a stuffy nose from narrow airways and nostrils is logical as the body’s defense mechanism is trying to maintain an optimal carbon dioxide pressure. Carbon dioxide is produced in the body and basically all carbon dioxide leaves the body via exhalation. In case of deficiency, the body tries to reduce the outflow by narrowing the airways.
  • Calms the brain. In panic attacks and fear of flying it is common to get a bag to breathe in, so part of the exhaled air is re-inhaled. Exhaled air contains a lot of carbon dioxide and when we re-inhale this air, the body’s carbon dioxide levels are raised naturally and the person with panic attacks or fear of flying gets calmer.

Why women are at risk of developing poor breathing habits

Six reasons as to why women are at risk of developing poor breathing habits:

Menstruation

1. Menstruation. The secretion of the hormone progesterone increases in the second part of the menstrual cycle, i.e. from ovulation to menstruation. It is also called the luteal phase.

In a study from 2016, by Godbole et al, on 100 women, age 17-22, over three consecutive menstrual cycles, a significant increase in body weight, pulse and respiratory rate was observed.

In another 1987 study by Bayliss et al, where extra progesterone was given to 30 cats you can read – “It is well known since the beginning of the 20th century that women hyperventilate during pregnancy and during the second part of the menstrual cycle (luteal phase).

Since increased levels of progesterone coincide with increased respiration, it has been suggested that it is progesterone that is the cause of increased respiration. This is supported by studies where progesterone was given to men and to people with respiratory problems. In our 30 cats study, we conclude the same – that it is indeed the increased levels of progesterone that cause hyperventilation during the luteal phase and pregnancy.

If we do something often enough, we establish new habits. This also applies to our breathing habits. As the progesterone causes increased breathing during menstruation and pregnancy, it may eventually result in that a woman’s breathing pattern permanently changes.

Pregnancy

2. Pregnancy. Once the egg is fertilized and the woman is pregnant the high levels of progesterone are maintained throughout the pregnancy. As with menstruation above, the high levels of progesterone lead to increased breathing.

As the fetus grows larger the breathing is forced up in the chest, which makes it increasingly difficult to breathe low and wide (not big). Since shallow breathing is an inefficient way of breathing we compensate by breathing more.

For some reason, low blood pressure in conjunction with pregnancy has not received the attention it deserves. In an article from 1986, “Maternal Hyperventilation and the Fetus”, Renate Huch, from the University of Zurich, has compiled 14 studies showing that pregnant women had an average carbon dioxide pressure of only about 31 mmHg.

Since there is a big difference compared with a normal pressure of 40-45, it is conceivable that these low levels of carbon dioxide are associated with, for example, severe and prolonged deliveries and post partum depression.

AuthorYearCarbon dioxide pressure (Pco2) in mmHg
Andersen and Walker197031.9
Blechner et al196928.7
Boutourline and Young195630.9 (PAco2)
Cohen et al197032.8
Derom196932.0
Friedberg198031.0
Lim et al197627.3
MacRae and Palavradji196731.3
Milewski and Schumann197726.4
Rooth and Sjöstedt196230.8
Rossier and Hotz195333.2
Schlick et al197730.5
Sjöstedt196232.1
Stojanov197233.6
Tucking in the stomach

3. Tucking in the stomach. To have a big belly is considered by many to indicate poise or authority, IF those extra pounds are on a man. On the other hand, a pouting belly on a woman is definitely not regarded as appropriate.

Therefore, many young girls subconsciously learn from an early age to tuck in their stomach. This however forces the breath up into the chest and the breathing becomes shallow and fast.


4. “Good girl”. From an early age women often put a lot of pressure on themselves, creating the “good girl” syndrome. When expected to perform at all times we tend to hold our breath more often and “forget” to exhale. Or we breathe fast and shallow.

5. A tight fitting bra. Wearing a tight fitting bra might make it difficult to take a low and wide breath, which also results in poor shallow breathing high up in the chest.

6. Hormonal imbalance. Today, it is common for women to be estrogen dominant, meaning their progesterone levels are too low and their estrogen levels are too high. During stress the production of the stress hormone cortisol increases. Consequently, since cortisol and progesterone compete for the same resources, the progesterone levels decrease during stress. The use of birth control pills also contributes to lower levels of progesterone. They contain synthetic progesterone (gestagen) that does not work the same way in the body as natural progesterone.

Estrogen is a growth hormone given to cattle to grow faster and produce more milk. So when we eat beef and dairy products we also ingest estrogen into our body. Furthermore, there is bisphenol A (BPA) in many plastic products. Bisphenol A is similar to estrogen and we get this substance into our bodies mainly through food and beverages that have been in contact with plastic products leaking bisphenol A.

This article is based on the book The Power of Your Breath.

Scientific studies

Study on 100 women – progesterone and increased respiration

TitleEffect of female sex hormones on cardiorespiratory parameters
JournalJ Family Med Prim Care. 2016 Oct-Dec;5(4):822-824. doi: 10.4103/2249-4863.201148
AuthorGodbole G1, Joshi AR1, Vaidya SM1
LinksAbstractFulltext
AbstractINTRODUCTION:Female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone regulate various phases of the menstrual cycle. Hormonal changes tend to affect various parameters of physical fitness. Maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) is a measure of aerobic power. This study was planned to assess effect of different phases of menstrual cycle on cardiorespiratory parameters like pulse rate, respiratory rate and VO2 max.

METHODS: 100 female medical students in the age group of 17-22 years were studied for three consecutive menstrual cycles. Weight, resting pulse rate, respiratory rate and VO2 max were measured during premenstrual phase (20th-25th day) and postmenstrual phase (5th to 10th day).

RESULTS:It was observed that there was a significant increase in body weight, pulse rate, and respiratory rate during premenstrual phase. There was a decrease in VO2 max during the premenstrual phase.

CONCLUSION:This study indicates that there is decreased cardio-respiratory efficiency during premenstrual phase.

Study on 30 cats – injection of progesterone increases respiration

TitleProgesterone stimulates respiration through a central nervous system steroid receptor-mediated mechanism in cat
JournalProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1987 Nov;84(21):7788-92.
AuthorBayliss DA1, Millhorn DE, Gallman EA, Cidlowski JA.
LinksAbstractFulltext
AbstractWe have examined the effect on respiration of the steroid hormone progesterone, administered either intravenously or directly into the medulla oblongata in anesthetized and paralyzed male and female cats. The carotid sinus and vagus nerves were cut, and end-tidal PCO2 and temperature were kept constant with servo-controllers.

Phrenic nerve activity was used to quantitate central respiratory activity. Repeated doses of progesterone (from 0.1 to 2.0 micrograms/kg, cumulative) caused a sustained (greater than 45 min) facilitation of phrenic nerve activity in female and male cats; however, the response was much more variable in females. Progesterone injected into the region of nucleus tractus solitarii, a respiratory-related area in the medulla oblongata, also caused a prolonged stimulation of respiration.

Progesterone administration at high concentration by both routes also caused a substantial hypotension. Identical i.v. doses of other classes of steroid hormones (17 beta-estradiol, testosterone, and cortisol) did not elicit the same respiratory effect. Pretreatment with RU 486, a progesterone-receptor antagonist, blocked the facilitatory effect of progesterone. We conclude that progesterone acts centrally through a steroid receptor-mediated mechanism to facilitate respiration.

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About the author

Anders Olsson is a lecturer, teacher and founder of the Conscious Breathing concept and the author of Conscious Breathing. After living most of his life with a ”hurricane of thoughts” bouncing back and forth in is head, Anders was fortunate enough to come across tools that have helped him relax and find his inner calm. The most powerful of these tools has undoubtedly been to improve his breathing habits, which made Anders decide to become the worlds most prominent expert in breathing. This is now more than 10 years ago and since then he has helped tens of thousands of people to a better health and improved quality of life.

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