Chapter 3: Biochemical Aspects of Breathing

This is a chapter 3 summary of “Multidisciplinary Approaches to Breathing Pattern Disorders” by Leon Chaitow. The second edition will be coming out this December, and you can preorder it by clicking on the link or the photo below.

The Focus

When talking about breathing biochemically, the focus will be shifted toward oxygen delivery to the tissues and carbon dioxide removal. Maintaining these gases is a complex body task due to their constant fluctuations.

Looking at pH is a great way to get a glimpse of the the entire body.  We know the pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with the physiological normal being between 7.35 and 7.45. If we have a value at 7.5 or above, our body goes into alkalosis. An example of this would be in the case of hyperventilation. If our pH drops to 7.3, we go into acidosis.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

CO2 determines blood acidity, and comes primarily from the mitochondria. It is the biological equivalent of smoke and ash.

CO2 levels can vary with exercise, as more is produced when we are training. However, pH stays balanced because oxygen demand increases.  The opposite occurs when we are not exerting ourselves because CO2 is not produced as much.

Another example of changing CO2 levels is during breath holding. More is not necessarily produced, but CO2 levels rise because we are not exhaling it away. This rise is what we feel when we hold our breath.

Metabolic Alkalosis and Acidosis

Aberrant breathing can cause respiratory acidosis or alkalosis, but many physiological conditions can affect pH as well. These conditions can be differentiated by blood analysis. Some examples of metabolic acidosis include ketoacidosis and excessive diarrhea. Metabolic alkalosis can be induced by excessive vomiting or diuretic use.

The above changes can influence breathing and oxygen transport. If we are more acidic, more breathing will be necessary and oxygen will be more ready to dissociate from its carrier hemoglobin. The reverse occurs when we are in an alkaline state.

Neural Regulation

Breathing changes based on CO2 levels are regulated by two chemoreceptor types: medullary (central) and those in carotid and aortic bodies (peripheral). The medulla handles minute-to-minute adjustments while the peripheral receptors handle second-to-second adjustments.

Allergies, Diets, and Nutrition

It is not often discussed regarding how nutrition can affect breathing, but reading this book will make you think differently. Up to 10% of people with asthma may have a food allergy; especially if the asthma is poorly controlled. Even food intolerances can aggravate or trigger asthmatic attacks.

Elevated blood lactate levels have also been shown to induce panic attacks and hyperventilation in those prone to these states. The reason is lactate can create peripheral alkalosis by converting to bicarbonate.

Lactate matters because glucose has been shown to elevate lactate levels. So it may be fair to say that diets potentially high in sugar could influence panic and thus breathing disorders. Other substances such as alcohol and caffeine can also influence these levels.

That does not mean that glucose ought to be completely eliminated from the diet, as our brains utilize 20% of available glucose in the body at any given time. Therefore, as a way to see if glucose levels have an effect on breathing disorders, check to see if hyperventilation occurs relative to meal times.


Another unfortunate issue with hyperventilation is poor exercise tolerance. Carbonic acid levels increase with aerobic exercise; and lactic acid follows once the anaerobic threshold is crossed. Those who hyperventilate have smaller buffer zones for these acids due to less present bicarbonate.