This is a test mostly used for asthma, although its significance in most areas of health cannot be overstated. Perhaps you’ve heard of the importance of the breath, through yoga, pranayama or breathwork. There is a sound scientific reason for the importance of correct breathing, and it is directly related to carbon dioxide (CO2), NOT just oxygen. With normal breathing, the blood contains a maximum amount of oxygen and cannot absorb more. It is known that even breathing pure oxygen from a hospital mask will only increase haemoglobin levels by no more than 1.5%.
CO2 is commonly seen as a “waste” product because it is something we breathe out.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Carbon dioxide is needed for all metabolic processes and many other body processes, including:
~ acid/alkali balance
~ cardiovascular function/heart
~ smooth muscle dilation
~ releasing and transporting oxygen (see picture)
The brain on the left hand side in the picture is the brain with normal oxygen levels. The one on the right is dim from hyperventilation (over-breathing). Oxygen is not reaching all the tissues which is the opposite of what people logically expect to happen from over-breathing. Without sufficient CO2, oxygen cannot be released to the tissues.
The body has a CO2 setting and this will cause you to breathe more or less to maintain your carbon dioxide “setting”. These changes in breathing go mostly unnoticed by us all.
As an analogy, I’ll use a household thermostat. When you set the temperature on a thermostat, to maintain that set temperature it will self adjust – if it gets colder than the setting, it will switch on to heat up and off to decrease heat.
Carbon dioxide levels are set in the body like a thermostat. If your CO2 level goes higher than the “setting” you will increase your breathing slightly, without you consciously knowing you’re doing it. Chronic over-breathing will cause constant low levels of CO2 and your body will reset the status to that lower level. Even at the expense of your organs.
Why would it do that? Again we can use an analogy, this time of eating. If you constantly eat past the sensation of fullness, even by just a little, your body will eventually need more food to reach satiety. Some people are eating double the amount their body needs, otherwise they feel unsatisfied. This leads to inevitable weight gain.
To reset that level, you would need to eat a little less than a satisfying amount of food for quite a while and your body would reset again. Then you simply respect the sensation of fullness and you will maintain correct weight regardless of what you eat. (It’s the French secret to eating pastries, drinking wine and not gaining an ounce, btw)
That is what happens to CO2. We over-breathe for many reasons and they vary from person to person:
~ heat, including overdressing or too many blankets
~ humidity/hot showers
~ exercise (with incorrect breathing)
~ mouth breathing (sleeping, blocked nose, panting)
~ chronic cough
~ pollution, perfumes, strong smells
~ eating, esp over eating
Low Co2 plays a part at the very least in asthma, angina, low oxygen availability, poor enzyme function, ulcers, acidity and alkalinity, infections, cellular disruption, diabetes and other hormone imbalances, migraine, and many other issues.
As low CO2 messes with the pH and the oxygenation of cells, it gives rise to the perfect conditions for pathogenic infection – pathogens usually prefer hypoxic environments (low oxygen).
Professor Buteyko of Russia studied thousands and thousands of people and discovered that the length of a person’s control pause (CP) was directly related to the percentage of carbon dioxide in their alveoli. The higher the percentage, the better the health. If you have ever been with a person as they died, you will have noticed that they breathed quite hard or fast, eventually taking a big, last breath and died.
The Test – For Adults
Note: this test is for adults. Young children find it difficult and the results are too variable.
Control Pause: be seated, good posture but relaxed. If you have been moving around a bit, relax for a minute or so. You will need to hold your breath and time the length of the hold so have a clock with a second hand or a timer. Before you do the breath hold, DO NOT take a deep breath first.
Breathe normally (whatever that is for you) and take a two second in-breath and exhale for two or so seconds, but leave a little air in your lungs. Look up, pinch your nose and time your CP. Start breathing again at the first sensation to inhale. Do not hold past this point or you will have to gasp or deep breathe. The goal is to resume breathing at the SAME RATE you were breathing before the CP. If your breathing has increased, you have held too long.
60 seconds – 6.5% CO2 – perfect health
50 seconds – 6.0 % CO2 – good health
40 seconds – 5.5% CO2 – probably symptom free
30 seconds – 5.0% CO2 – health may be struggling but is probably not noticed.
20 seconds – 4.5% CO2 – noticeable health problems
10 seconds – 4.0% CO2 – feeling lousy?
5 seconds – 3.5% CO2 – critically low CO2 levels; needs immediate attention
The Test – For Children
Children find it hard to do a control pause, so they do what is called Steps.
+ try to make it fun, like a game but not hyped up; be sure they are relaxed.
+ Have her stand, ready to take some steps forward (be sure there is room enough to do this, outside might be best).
+ demonstrate how to take a small breath in and a small breath out.
+ have her hold her breath by getting her to pinch her nose, be sure her mouth is visible so you can monitor there is no mouth breathing.
+ have her walk as many steps as she can before taking a breath (through the nose). Encourage her to walk as many steps as possible without it becoming stressful.
+ don’t let her run, and each time you test, be sure the pace is similar.
+ Count aloud her steps.
+ when she starts breathing, calm her breathing immediately and help her relax (like “jelly on a plate”).
+ the first breath will usually be bigger than usual but suppress her following breaths.
Results can vary for children even more than the control pause test for adults, which is inherently variable. However, less than 20 steps is less than ideal. The goal with treatment is to increase those steps. Very healthy children with beautiful breathing can achieve 50 steps and some much more than that. The steps test for children is really for a parent to guage if there is progress. Although, relief of symptoms or cure of disease is the best guage.