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THE IMPORTANCE OF CARBON DIOXIDE TO YOUR HEALTH

[COMMENT:  Seems like Global Warming is on its last legs.     E. Fox]
 

By Robert Chouinard, 24 Feb 09 http://www.nzcpr.com/soapbox.htm#RobertC

First, do you know that carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere is

only slightly more than 1/3rd of 1/10th of 1 percent?

* just recovering from the lowest level in the history of the earth?

* the source of carbon for all life forms, on land or in the sea?

* only slightly above the suffocation level for green plants?

* a fraction of the level for which evolution designed plants?

* so low as to cause some people breathing problems?

* increased by 130 times and more when administered to sick patients?

* considered, thanks to Al Gore, a pollutant by the U.S. Supreme Court?

* now a commodity to be traded on Al Gore’s Carbon Exchange? (See lawsuit against Al Gore for fraud)  

It’s common knowledge that when we breathe we take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide but what is not generally known is that we are greatly affected by the level of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe as well as the way we breathe. Because many people with a wide range of health problems find relief when given enhanced levels of carbon dioxide, it follows that these people would benefit from any rise in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The importance of CO2 and proper breathing is nicely covered in the following audio lecture and followed with scientific references.

Audio lecture: http://www.aetherin.com/audio/03_carbondioxide.mp3

What are safe levels of Carbon Dioxide?

Source: http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/pns/faq_othr.html  Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), a colorless, odorless gas, have been known to reach 3,000 parts per million (ppm) in homes, schools, and offices with no ill effects. The maximum recommended by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for an 8-hour occupation is 5,000 ppm (13 times the current level of 380 ppm). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also use 5,000 ppm as their threshold for occupational safety.

But 5,000 ppm appears to be a very conservative estimate of safe levels because other sources claim we can tolerate up to 1.5% of it in air, 15,000 parts per million.

Consider: people with respiratory problems are given medical gas typically consisting of 95 percent oxygen and 50,000 ppm (5 percent) carbon dioxide. This gas can also be obtained with CO2 ranging from 1% to as high as 10% for treating people who have been asphyxiated.

Also consider: we would die if we did not breathe in such a way as to retain very close to 65,000 ppm (6.5%) of CO2 in the alveoli (tiny air sacs) of our lungs.

And finally, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) reports that 100,000 ppm (10%) of CO is the atmospheric concentration immediately dangerous to life.

Scientific studies on higher levels of CO2

Altitude sickness is caused by hyperventilation, which results in increased oxygen (O2) in the blood but decreased CO2. (Note: oxygen (O) occurs as a molecule in nature, hence the symbol O2) The lowered CO2  will not allow the increased O2 to be utilized. Adjusting to this condition is called “ventilatory acclimatization”. While it is not completely understood all that happens during this process, it has been observed by experimentation that supplementing CO2 prevents this acclimatization as well as preventing the sickness. It appears that respiratory distress due to lower levels of O2 (requiring ventilatory acclimatization) can be relieved or eliminated by the application of a higher level of CO2.

This might be a good time to ask: since we exhale CO2, why do we need it to be present in the air we inhale? Good question, but apparently, we do as demonstrated by the above experiment. Other experiments found that simply circulating CO2 up one nostril and out the other while the subject held their breath cured migraine headaches as well as allergic symptoms. Other researchers propose administering CO2 to people who suffer from epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and autism as well. Clearly, we are affected by low  levels of CO2 in the air we breathe and need to acclimatize to these low levels, if we can, but not everyone can. Consider:

ı People who experience periodic breathing as well as apnea (cessation of breathing) during sleep benefit from higher levels of CO2. These conditions affect a lot of older people.

ı Increased levels of CO2 can improve the sleep of young people as well. One study found that healthy young men on a submarine slept well when CO2 levels rose but not as well when the levels dropped.

ı Furthermore it’s administered in the form of medical gas (1% to 10%) for many medical conditions to  stimulate respiration. For example, people with asthma require from 3% to 5% for therapeutic effect.

Studies suggest that a lower level than this but somewhat higher than present atmospheric levels would prevent the attacks in the first place and prevent subclinical symptoms associated with asthma such as anxiety, insomnia, immune dysfunction and excessive sensitivity to pain. CO2 levels higher than 5 per cent are used for extreme cases such as for treating victims of asphyxiation and to stimulate breathing of  newborn infants as well as speeding recovery of patients who have been anesthetized.

ı The majority of us have some degree of lung impairment, which affects the more critical function of the lungs in regulating the proper level of CO2 in the alveoli (tiny air sacs). Metabolic syndrome alone includes approximately 20 – 30 % of adults in the U.S. and Europe. Then there are smokers, asthmatics, and people with miner’s lung, emphysema and scarred lungs due to previous bouts of pneumonia, old people, and many more conditions. Furthermore, a wide range of medical conditions and infectious diseases manifest in pulmonary symptoms. All these conditions can require medical gas because the present atmospheric level is not optimum and appears to lack a safety margin for people with lung impairment. Breathing is a tricky business. We have to breathe fast and deep enough to get the O2 we need but not so fast as to hyperventilate and lose control of our blood’s CO2 balance (pH). Over the last 50 million years the O2 level and CO2 level have both dropped as well as atmospheric density, which puts us into the same predicament as the mountain climber who must acclimatize to a higher altitude. Even healthy mountain climbers reach a level at which they cannot further adapt. People with lung impairment are like the climber who has reached that level. Either an increase in the O2 level or an increase in the CO2 level would be a benefit. It is for good reason that people hospitalized are fitted with air tubes to their nostrils providing them very high levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. (Typically, 4.5 times the oxygen but, more  importantly, 130 times the carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere)

ı Experiments have shown that even healthy people have different tolerances (or sensitivity) to CO2  levels. However, we can all acclimatize to much higher levels simply by constant exposure to those levels.

Physiological changes occur as well as adaptive breathing changes. There is a curious variation in these physiological changes noted in studies of people who live at higher altitudes, which seem to be a result of genetics. The natural experiment of human colonization of high-altitude plateaus on three continents has resulted in two—perhaps three—quantitatively different arterial-oxygen-content phenotypes among Andean, Tibetan and Ethiopian high-altitude populations. The dominance of Ethiopian (and neighboring Kenyan) athletes in endurance marathon running events would appear to be a result of their unique evolutionary adaptation in this regard.

Making Sense of it all while keeping it simple

The two most immediate concerns when treating patients in intensive care are their blood gasses and their blood electrolytes. Marathon runners frequently pass out and can even die because they did not replenish their electrolytes that were depleted through excessive sweating. One of these electrolytes (bicarbonate) acts as a buffer in the blood to regulate the blood’s pH but can be depleted in an attempt to compensate for blood gases. (The reverse can also happen as respiration can change and become distressed in an attempt to compensate for bicarbonate.) Consider the mountain climber who has to acclimatize to a higher altitude over a one or two day period (ventilatory acclimatization). It is a slow change in his body chemistry using his available bicarbonate that makes this possible. To a lesser degree, we all depend on these electrolytes on a daily basis; a proper diet is essential to replenish them.

Our blood gasses (O2 & CO2) depend on the efficiency of our respiration, which consist of two phases:

oxygenation (intake of O2) and ventilation (exhalation of CO2). The audio clip nicely explains the ventilatory phase and what happens when we breathe too fast and lose control of our CO2 but what it fails to address are the problems we can encounter when we don’t get enough oxygen. These problems are the result of the ventilatory phase being much more efficient than the oxygenation phase due to various factors. Here are three: (1) ease of exchange of CO2 is normally 20X the ease with which O2 can be exchanged; (2) swelling and/or scarring of the lung tissue will impede O2 transfer more than CO2; (3) the impulse to take another breath is determined by the CO2 content of our blood, not the O2 content. Here is how a higher CO2 level helps: it decreases the CO2 rate of exchange during the ventilatory phase causing the need for more vigorous breathing to maintain a CO2 balance and this helps our uptake of oxygen. In other words, it stimulates our breathing and better balances the oxygenation phase with the ventilatory phase.

Conclusion

Over the last 350 million years CO2 has varied by 10 fold, approximately 250 ppm to 2,500 ppm with an  average level of 1,500 ppm. This average level happens to be the optimum level for plants, it seems by evolutionary design, and is the reason that this level of CO2 is used in greenhouses Since plants and animals evolved together it’s likely that humans also evolved to function best at some higher level.

However, at 380 ppm we are not far from the lower end of that 10-fold range. Because so many people benefit from enhanced levels of CO2, it appears that our present atmosphere is already lower than the minimum to which some people can adapt. Scientific studies and established medical practices leave no doubt that increased levels of CO2 help people with respiratory problems and, some time in our lives, that will include nearly every one of us.

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Date Posted -  03/02/2008   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012