George Catlin Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life

georgecatlinGeorge Catlin was an illustrator and author from Pennsylvania. In1832 he set off on a journey up the Missouri river, the first of many of his travels over 42 years in the West where he lived among the Indian tribes dedicating his life to preserving their character through his art work and writing. In his preface to North American Indian Portfolio Catlin states that, “The history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country and becoming their historian.” Catlin was the first to provide pictorial documentation of Lewis & Clarke’s celebrated expedition up the Missouri River into the Pacific Northwest.

And what does an author and illustrator of North American Indian tribes have to do with the health benefits of carbon dioxide you might ask? Well it turns out that Catlin wrote a couple of books based on his observations when living with different tribes that dealt with their practice of nose breathing and their understanding of the numerous pathological affects of mouth breathing.

In Shut Your Mouth And Save Your Life, Catlin describes how Indian mothers would always press the lips together of their infants when sleeping to insure that breathing was maintained through the nose. And in his illustrations, Catlin depicts how infants were securely swaddled in their cradles to make sure that they slept on their backs which aided in nose breathing. While living with the Sioux on the upper Missouri Catlin describes in The Breath of Life; or, Mal-Respiration, And Its Effects upon the Enjoyments & Life of Man how he interceded in a conflict between a Sioux brave and a fur company trapper. A serious quarrel had broken out between the two men who were to settle the matter with a fight to the death. Stripped naked and wielding knives the men were to meet unaccompanied out on the prairie when Catlin and a few others managed to intervene and settle the dispute amicably. Afterword, Catlin had asked the Sioux if he was afraid of being killed by an opponent much superior in size and strength to which the Sioux replied, “no, no, not in the least; I never fear harm from a man who can’t shut his mouth no matter how large or strong he may be”. Catlin recognized the importance of correct breathing and remarked that, “observing the healthy condition and physical perfection of those people in their primitive state, as contrasted with the deplorable mortality, the numerous diseases and deformities in civilized communities, I have been led to search for, and able I believe to discover the main causes leading to such different results”.

So was Catlin really on to something with the simple observations that he made regarding the practices of the plains Indians with breathing, or was he just idolizing the rapidly vanishing indigenous cultures? The evidence that Catlin gathered in his two books is supported by contemporary research studies.

According to a study published in the peer reviewed clinical journal General Dentistry (Jan, 2010), most health care professionals are unaware of the physical and medical problems associated with mouth breathing. Children are particularly at risk because mouth breathing affects the development of both facial features and teeth and are susceptible to the same pathological problems as adults. Published clinical studies show that in those who are severely sick with a chronic illness, mouth breathing is one of two leading factors associated with mortality. Studies from the Sleep Apnea Information Center indicate that mouth breathing, when sleeping is a factor in a number of health issues including not only sleep apnea but degradation of throat tissue, snoring, headaches, low energy and depression related to hyperventilation and poor oxygenation. It is well established that the death rate is highest for risk factors including heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks and others during early morning hours. The habit of mouth breathing during sleep increases the susceptibility of otherwise healthy adults to these risk factors.

The importance of nose breathing both during waking hours and when asleep cannot be overstated. The nasal passages help to clean and warm the incoming air. Mucous layers in the sinuses prevent bacteria, viruses and dust from entering the lungs and move it toward the stomach for elimination.

Nitric oxide NO is generated not only in the tissues, but also in the sinuses. Nose breathing makes this NO available, whereas the activity of mouth breathing depletes it. The common drug nitroglycerin that has been in use for over a century to help prevent fatal heart attacks and undergoes two chemical reductions to form nitric oxide. NO promotes smooth muscle relaxation and acts as vasodilator promoting circulation and decreasing blood pressure. Further, NO inhibits platelet aggregation a major factor in myocardial infarction.

It is interesting to note that one of the definitions of a mouth breather is a “stupid person, a imbecile, a dolt, a moron”. The pathogenic affects of mouth breathing have been known for some time now just due to simple observation. Japaneses researchers have also established that CO2 concentration is much higher during nose breathing then oral breathing. The deleterious health affects of excessive washing CO2 from the lungs both from hyperventilation and mouth breathing set the stage for a chain reaction of pathological conditions that serve principally to act as a defensive measure to prevent this excessive loss of CO2.

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