Carbon Dioxide: The Spark of Life

carbondioxidearticleDr. Konstantin Buteyko was a Russian scientist and medical doctor who began research in the 1950′s on the dynamic role that carbon dioxide CO2 plays in maintaining optimal human health and longevity. He has implicated some 150 diseases as being associated with incorrect breathing. Through his extensive research Buteyko has submitted that disease is a defensive reaction of the organism to the removal of CO2 through poor breathing habits. Buteyko developed the simple but compelling theory that chronic diseases are systematic attempts by the body to adapt to conditions of low levels of carbon dioxide within the human organism. In other words, various chronic illnesses develop as a compensatory response to depleted levels of CO2 in the cells, the blood and the lungs.

Dr. Buteyko’s research was instrumental in demonstrating the direct relationship between chronic patterns of over-breathing called hyperventilation, and the many and varied disease conditions that followed. Paradoxically, with over-breathing when we are taking in more air, we are actually receiving less oxygen to our tissues because this pattern of over-breathing causes the body to release more carbon dioxide then it produces, thereby limiting the release of oxygen to the cells. In commenting on the critical role of carbon dioxide, Dr. Buteyko states that, “carbon dioxide is the basic nutrition of every life form on earth. It acts as the main regulator of all functions in the organism; it is the main internal environment of the organism; it is the vitamin of all vitamins.”

Because the basic processes of cell metabolism developed during geological periods when there were present much higher levels of atmospheric CO2, evolving cells have been faced with the problem of maintaining adequate levels of CO2 and protecting themselves against oxygen toxicity and free radical damage. Cell evolution occurred when CO2 levels were in the tens of percent range, as contrasted with current levels that now measure only .03 percent or less. The question for larger more complex organisms was how to adapt to decreased levels of CO2 and how to maintain metabolic vitality that depended upon high levels of CO2.

It is interesting to note that human evolution has dealt with this dilemma in a number of different ways. One of the most primary physiological features of this adaptation can be seen in the lungs where by creating an internal air environment with the alveolar spaces the lungs are able to maintain a atmosphere that contains around 6.5 percent of CO2 under optimal conditions. Quite a contrast to levels in the ambient atmospheric CO2 at .03 percent. Further, it is worth mentioning that the gaseous mixture in the womb of a developing human embryo maintains a level of 7 percent to 8 percent CO2, approximately that same mixture as that found in the lungs.

In a very real sense, what we are dealing with is a problem of oxygen toxicity due to decreased levels of CO2 in the human organism that tempers the oxidative damage from oxygen. Carbon dioxide insufficiency occurs first from a undetected pattern of hyperventilation induced by illness or some type of stress. It occurs secondly when cells are forced to produce energy from a primitive fermentation metabolism that yields no CO2 as a byproduct, placing mitochondrial DNA at risk. Paradoxically, without adequate levels of CO2 cells are prohibited from utilizing oxygen for their metabolism. The importance of carbon dioxide not only as a anti oxidant, but as it is involved throughout the body in every major system cannot be overstated.

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