The Breathing Mechanism Explained
Breathing is an automatic process. No one has to think about it. The only time it stops is with death. The oxygen in the air is nourishment for the body. Oxygen is equally as important, in fact, more important, than food or water. People have survived up to a month without food and a week or more without water. However, without air it is possible only to survive a few minutes. Thus, the inhalation of air is the most critical of all body processes.
Through an automatic process controlled by the brain air is inhaled into the lungs. Quickly, it reaches the tiny cells, that is the alveoli, located throughout the lung tissue. The alveoli act to deliver the oxygen from the air into the blood. This oxygen is then captured by the red blood cells, which transport it through the blood and ultimately deliver it to the cells. The inhalation of air can be inhibited, that is by stress or poor posture. However, it is impossible to stop, except by death.
The lungs are a magnificent set of organs, which defy even science’s understanding. How is it that such a system can turn air into the key source of cellular nutrition? How does this system operate continuously, performing its functions untold millions of times without seemingly wearing out? This is an utter marvel of nature, one that could only be attributed to a higher power.
Any basic review of their anatomy and function makes it evident that the lungs are perfectly designed. Therefore, it is reasonable to presume that they were designed by a Power that is unfathomable. Many people, even top scientists, might consider that over time such a refined system could evolve,
apparently on its own. Yet, when carefully reviewing its grand structure it is seemingly impossible to believe that such a refined, complex organ system could develop simply through chance or mere evolution. The fact is the lungs are perfectly configured for processing air and converting it into a usable form. Truly, this is a marvel. Yet, despite the refinement of their function it is rare to find these organs operating in an optimal condition. Due to a variety of factors,such as pollution, poor posture, cigarette smoking, poor nutrition, etc., the function of the lungs can be greatly compromised. Thus, serious malfunction and even disease
may develop. Yet, the lungs greatly resist such toxicity.However, ultimately, if the toxic insults are continuous, the resistance of the lungs is weakened, and thus, a wide range of disorders may result. Thus, it is crucial to keep these organs in the most optimal condition possible.’
An old Reader’s Digest book,
Our Human Body: Its Wonders and Care,
provides an excellent overview of the lungs. J. D. Radcliff notes that human beings subject the lungs to a wide range of insults. For instance, he describes how slumping, sitting in a sloppy manner in soft chairs, cramping the body while sitting, etc., all impair their ability to keep us healthy. Smog, gasoline fumes, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and industrial chemicals, as well as fumes from household cleaners and pesticides, damage these delicate organs on contact. Incredibly, the lungs are inflated half a billion times in a lifetime, which amounts to a massive amount of strain on such a fine organ system. Obviously, the lungs are more durable than any man-made machine, which could never withstand so many repetitions. Yet, this natural function, the “wear and tear” from mere breathing, is far from the major issue. It is the toxic insults that reach the lungs that cause the greatest degree of damage.
The lungs are a highly delicate system and, thus, are exceptionally vulnerable to toxicity. They would go into shock if they were directly and immediately exposed to pollutants or particulate matter as well as to extremes in air temperature. This dilemma is solved by the nose, which conditions the air and filters particulate matter. Every breath may deliver a potentially lethal amount of dust particles as well as allergens and microbes. Here again, the nasal passages, as well as sinuses, act as a buffer, filtering noxious items and producing mucous to lubricate, cleanse, trap, and condition. The mucous is a type of sticky compound, which traps any dust that passes over it, much like a warm gluey surface. Obviously, if dust is constantly being trapped, with time this accumulates and could clog the system. However, in one of its immense miracles the body has its own “street cleaners”: the cilia, tiny hair-like projections with their own independent sweeping power, helping to cleanse the tissue linings and mucous of dust and other particulate matter. The lungs have a vast blood supply. This is so that the red blood cells can mix readily with the air. The red cells contain a complex molecule called hemoglobin. It is the hemoglobin which traps oxygen so it can be transported to
the cells and organs.
Everyone knows that blood is red. However, in certain areas the blood appears dark blue or purple. This is the blood inside veins. It is the same blood. However, this purplish blood is depleted of oxygen. Plus, it is high in carbon dioxide. When the venous blood is returned to the lungs, the oxygen is replenished and carbon dioxide is expelled. In other words, oxygen makes blood red. That is why the blood of people on oxygen tanks is unusually bright red. Oxygen is crucial for sustaining health. It is the most vital life force. Without it all life must cease. In contrast, carbon dioxide is a cellular poison. If it accumulates in excess, life ceases. It is crucial that the body receives plenty of oxygen, while expelling as much carbon dioxide as possible. The purpose of breathing is to draw in sufficient oxygen and drive out the carbon dioxide. Anything which impairs breathing, such as spinal disease, abdominal illnesses, poor posture, stress, lung disease, medications,
etc., diminishes health by impairing oxygen intake and increasing carbon dioxide retention.
The lungs are crucial for cleansing the tissues. Exhaled gases contain a wide range of toxins, that is the various waste products, from cellular metabolism. Physiology and Hygiene, published in 1900, describes the dangers of this toxicity. The authors note that the waste gases from human exhalation are not only poisonous to the individual, but also to the group. Have you ever noticed a heavy or foul “human smell” in closed rooms with large numbers of humans? That smell isn’t body odor; it is the odor of foul human gases from exhaled air. It is crucial to have a healthy breathing mechanism to maintain superior health. If the breathing process is disrupted, overall health will suffer. In order to do so take deep breaths often and exhale thoroughly. Healthy breathing is an art which must be practiced. Incredibly, we often forget to breathe and rarely take the time to take a deep breath. The fact is that relaxed deep breathing is such a powerful technique that it may by itself result in an immediate improvement in health.
With every breath there is a trade: oxygen for carbon dioxide and other waste gases. This is what sustains life. If this trade is imbalanced, ill health results. If it is severely disrupted, death may result.
Yet, to breathe pure oxygen is dangerous, except for very short periods of time. Pure oxygen excessively accelerates the metabolic rate, causing the body to essentially burn itself out. It also results in the formation of cellular poisons known as free radicals. The latter greatly disrupt metabolism and can even cause cell death. The free radicals are highly toxic to all cells in the body. Eventually, the excessively high or artificial amounts of oxygen may precipitate organ failure
and, thus, premature death. This is why in nature air contains only a small percentage of oxygen. Normally, this is approximately 20%. Thus, air is naturally a mixture of gases, mainly nitrogen and oxygen, with a small amount of carbon dioxide. Normally, the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is lower than 1%. However, as a result of pollution the levels are continuously rising. Thus, even the fresh air we breathe is inadequate for optimal health,because the body regards any inhaled carbon dioxide as noxious. Carbon monoxide, the gas resulting from automobile emissions, is even more noxious and is, in fact, a lung and tissue poison. High levels of carbon monoxide in inhaled air can quickly lead to death.
J. C. McKendrick in Principles of Physiology
provides a fascinating overview of the function of the lungs. He describes how breathing allows the excretion of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide is produced as a result of normal cellular activities. All living cells, plant and animal, produce it. This gas is found
in various organs as well as the blood and lymph. This lymph readily absorbs toxic gases, so it must be continuously decontaminated. The lymph provides the cells with nutrients, but it is also a respiratory organ, closely tied to every breath.
Breathing moves lymph, in other words, the lungs act as a sort of heart for the lymphatic system. Every time we breathe, lymph is pumped. The lymph absorbs oxygen from the lungs and delivers it to the cells, which then dump carbon dioxide back into it. Ultimately, the lymphaticsdump the carbon dioxide-rich fluid into the blood so it can be disposed of. In other words, the lungs act to remove the poisonous carbon compounds from the lymph. This is why the lungs are surrounded by lymphatic vessels.
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