We have all heard of oxygen. Most living things need oxygen to survive. Oxygen helps organisms grow, reproduce, and turn food into energy. Humans get the oxygen they need by breathing through their nose and mouth into their lungs. Oxygen gives our cells the ability to break down food to get the energy we need to survive. But what do we know about it and how it works for our bodies to thrive?
What is oxygen?
Oxygen is one of the best-known gases on the planet, mainly because it is essential for our physical survival. It is a crucial part of Earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere; it has a profound effect on plants, animals, and metals and is used for medical purposes.
We humans and many other creatures need oxygen in the air we breathe to stay alive. Oxygen is a chemical element with an atomic number of 8 (eight protons in its nucleus). Oxygen forms a chemical compound (O2) of two atoms, a colorless gas at average temperatures and pressures.
Why is oxygen essential to life?
We start and end our life with oxygen! We take our first breath through our nose when we are born and our last one when we die.
Breathing is essential to life, as it allows the human body to obtain the energy it needs to sustain itself and its activities.
Suppose our ecosystem’s stability depends on oxygen to support life. In that case, all living things need oxygen. … If there is no oxygen, there is no respiration for anyone, which means that nobody could produce energy that could keep them alive.
The average adult, when resting, inhales and exhales about 7 or 8 liters of air per minute. That is a total of about 11,000 liters of air per day. Inhaled air is about 20-percent oxygen. Exhaled air is about 12-15-percent oxygen.
We get oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the body by breathing out stale air. But how does the breathing mechanism work? Air flows in via our mouth or nose. The air then follows the windpipe, which splits first into two bronchi: one for each lung.
Oxygen: A life-supporting Gas
Oxygen is the chemical element with the symbol O.
Why is oxygen written as O2?
The difference between oxygen (O) and oxygen (O2 )is that the element is O, on the periodic table isn’t describing molecules; it’s describing atoms,
The molecule is O2 because it takes 2 O atoms to make a molecule of oxygen.
Humans need oxygen to live, but not as much as you might think. The minimum oxygen concentration in the air required for human breathing is 19.5 percent. The human body takes the oxygen breathed in from the lungs and transports it to the other body parts via the body’s red blood cells. Each cell uses and requires oxygen to thrive. Most of the time, the air in the atmosphere contains the proper amount of oxygen for safe breathing. But at times, the level of oxygen can drop due to other toxic gases reacting with it.
What is in the Air We Breathe?
The air in our environment consists of a few different gases. Each time you take a breath, you inhale more than oxygen. Approximately 78 percent of the air is nitrogen gas, while only about 20.9 percent is oxygen. The remaining fraction comprises argon gas primarily, but trace amounts of carbon dioxide, neon, and helium are also present.
Oxygen is a fundamental component of respiration because the body uses it to ‘burn’ food molecules. We take in oxygen when inhaling and give off carbon dioxide when exhaling. … This is why rescue breathing works – it can supply a nonbreathing person with enough oxygen to support life.
Safe Oxygen Levels
For humans and many animals to sustain normal functions, the percentage of oxygen required to sustain life falls within a small range. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, determined the optimal range of oxygen in the air for humans runs between 19.5 and 23.5 percent.
Not Enough Oxygen: Side Effects
Serious side effects can occur if the oxygen levels drop outside the safe zone. When oxygen concentrations drop from 19.5 to 16 percent, and you engage in physical activity, your cells fail to receive the oxygen needed to function correctly. Mental functions become impaired, and respiration is intermittent at oxygen concentrations that drop from 10 to 14 percent; at these levels, the body becomes exhausted with any physical activity. Humans won’t survive with levels at six percent or lower.
Too Much Oxygen: Side Effects
Higher-than-normal oxygen levels aren’t as harmful to life, but there is an increased chance of fire or explosion risk. With incredibly high oxygen concentrations in the air, humans can experience harmful side effects. Very high levels of oxygen cause oxidizing free radicals to form. These free radicals attack the tissues and cells of the body and cause muscle twitching. The effects from short exposure can most likely be reversed, but lengthy exposure can cause death.
The right amount of oxygen starts at sea level. When altitude is increased, such as driving or climbing up a mountain, there is less atmospheric pressure. Lower pressure allows air to expand more than it does at sea level. While the ratio of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere remains the same, fewer molecules are available within the same space. Each breath you take at a higher altitude contains fewer oxygen molecules than breathing at a lower altitude. This can cause altitude sickness. Most people afflicted with altitude sickness experience nausea, headache, and fatigue. Without proper treatment, the problem can become more serious.
How does oxygen work in cellular respiration?
Cellular respiration is the process cells use to make energy. The energy released is stored in a chemical compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Cells in our body combine glucose and oxygen to make ATP and carbon dioxide. … oxygen combines with electrons and two hydrogen ions to make water.
Your body cells use the oxygen you breathe to get energy from the food you eat. This process is called cellular respiration. During cellular respiration, the cell uses oxygen to break down sugar. Breaking down sugar produces the energy your body needs.
Our vital respiratory signs change during one day based on our activities and during our lifetimes.
Before birth, the embryo and then the fetus draws oxygen from the mother’s blood through the placenta. Hemoglobin changes take place to enable the embryo/fetus to take oxygen from blood at a lower concentration than it will find in the air after birth. Immediately after birth, the newborn has to switch from drawing oxygen from the blood to inflating its lungs and taking air into them (Schroeder and Matsuda, 1958; Rhinesmith et al, 1957).
How do we bring air into the lungs?
Our respiratory system has a conduction zone and a respiratory zone. The conduction zone brings air from the external environment to the lungs via a series of tubes through which the air travels. These are the:
- Nasal cavity;
- Pharynx (part of the throat behind the mouth and nasal cavity),
- Larynx (voice box),
- Trachea (windpipe);
- Bronchi and bronchioles.
These tubes also:
- Warm the incoming air;
- Filter out small particles from it;
- Moisten it to ease the gas exchange in the lungs.
The nasal cavity has a large number of tiny capillaries that bring warm blood to the cold nose. The warmth from the blood diffuses into the cold air entering the nose and warms it. When you breathe through your mouth this step gets eliminated. This is why mouth breathing is not ideal.
The lining of the pharynx and larynx (which form the upper respiratory tract) and the lining of the trachea (lower respiratory tract) have small cells with little hairs called cilia. These hairs trap small airborne particles, such as dust, and prevent them from reaching the lungs.
The lining of the nasal cavity, upper respiratory tract, and lower respiratory tract contains goblet cells that secrete mucus. The mucus moistens the air as it comes in, making it more suitable for the body’s internal environment. It also traps particles, which the cilia then sweep upwards and away from the lungs so they are swallowed into the stomach for digestion, rather than getting trapped in the lungs. This mechanism of moving trapped particles in this way is known as the mucociliary escalator.
The lungs are a little like balloons: they do not inflate by themselves, but only do so if the air is blown into them. We can blow into the lungs and inflate them – which is one of the two techniques used for cardiopulmonary resuscitation – (CPR) but that does not happen in the normal daily life of healthy people. We have to inhale and exhale air by ourselves. Making oxygen the # one element we need to survive and thrive.
Studies have shown that oxygen helps:
- Stimulate brain activity
- Increase memory capacity
- Boost concentration
- Develop stronger alertness
- Raise energy levels
- Improve strength
- Build endurance
- Detox your blood
- Reduce stress
- Calm anxiety
- Alleviate tension headaches
- Remedy irregular sleeping patterns
- Help with cardiovascular activity
- Prevent lactic acid build-up
- Strengthen the immune system
The body closely monitors blood oxygen levels to keep them within a specific range, so that there is enough oxygen for the needs of every cell in the body.
- Regular breathing: breaths are similar in amplitude, duration, wave shape, and frequency
- Irregular breathing: breaths vary in one or more of the following: amplitude, duration, wave shape, and frequency
- Hypopnea: breathing at reduced breath (tidal) volume and/or frequency
- Apnoea: cessation of breathing
- Periodic breathing: a sequence of several breaths followed by apnoea, then a sequence of breaths, then apnoea, and so on
How do we use oxygen?
- Oxygen is used by animals and plants in the respiration (breathing) process.
- Tanks of oxygen are used in medicine to treat people with breathing problems. Tanks are also used as life support for astronauts and scuba divers.
- The majority of the oxygen used in industry is used in the manufacturing of steel.
Top 9 Plants that Provide Oxygen:
- Aloe Vera
- Pothos Plant
- Spider Plant
- Areca Palm
- Snake Plant
- Bamboo Plant
- Gerbera Daisy. This colorful flowering plant not only makes the house look beautiful it is also an excellent indoor plant for oxygen.
Your nose is designed to help you breathe safely, efficiently, and properly. It can do this due to its ability to:
- Filter out foreign particles. Nasal Hair filters out dust, allergens, and pollen, which helps prevent them from entering your lungs.
- Humidify inhaled air. Your nose warms and moisturizes the air you breathe in. This brings the air you inhale to body temperature, making it easier for your lungs to use.
- Produce nitric oxide. During nasal breathing, your nose releases nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means it helps to widen blood vessels. This can help improve oxygen circulation in your body.
Nitric oxide is so important to breathing and oxygen exchange we will discuss it in more detail on the next podcast. Understanding the 4 basic needs for survival is like putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and seeing the beautiful picture you created. Our bodies are truly amazing and complex with many systems working synergistically and simultaneously together.
When we breathe through our mouth we get 18% less oxygen to our brain. Which contributes to other complications and illnesses such as heart disease, sleep apnea, ADHD, ADD, and diabetes to name a few. The correlation is becoming more clear with each passing year but especially since Covid and wearing masks.
For so many years we have treated our mouth separate from the rest of our bodies. Still today we do not put enough emphasis on the health of our mouth as it relates to the health of our body. When our mouth is unhealthy we are not as healthy as we could be. Our body is continually fighting off chronic diseases that could be prevented with simple daily habits.
This is one of the reasons I started educating parents about mouth breathing. If we are aware and know what to look for we can change our habits. The agricultural revolution and the introduction of softer processed foods and sugar have had an overall negative impact on human oral health, increased the incidence of infectious disease and nutritional deficiencies, and contributed to an overall change in human growth and development.
Our ancient ancestors didn’t have these same problems we currently do. Until about 12,000 years ago, humans had what one of the studies called “an almost ‘perfect harmony’ between their lower jaws and teeth.”
The big change, scientists say, came from civilization’s transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers.
Those changes likely came from the diet, as previous studies have suggested. Hunter-gatherers needed big, strong jaws to chew the uncooked vegetables and meat that often made up their menu. Early farmers, on the other hand, had a softer diet, consuming cooked foods like beans and cereals that didn’t demand such a high level of mouth strength.
Over time, as jaws became smaller in response to these dietary changes, teeth didn’t follow suit, remaining around the same size. This likely directly led to the problem of adequate mouth real estate so common today. We’ve got modern jaws but a potentially outdated number of teeth. A smaller jaw means a smaller nasal cavity creating sleep-disordered breath and a lack of oxygen.
Myofunctional therapy can help change a mouth breathing habit back to nasal breathing.
Treatment of oxygen deprivation should always begin by addressing the source. First, we check to see if you can breathe through your nose for three minutes.
The longer mouth breathing and oxygen deprivation continue, the more the damage will likely be. Myo functional therapy is a noninvasive series of exercises.
The 4 goals of Myofunctional Therapy:
- Nasal breathing: all day and all night. air is filtered, warmed, and moisturized
- Lip Seal
- Correct Resting Tongue Posture
- Correct Swallowing Pattern
Myofunctional therapy helps patients to conquer bad habits and poor posture that may be the result of a tongue tie. Low tongue posture and a tongue tie may encourage mouth breathing rather than nose breathing. Myofunctional therapy is often necessary both before and after a frenectomy/ tongue-tie release.
Myofunctional therapy uses a combination of physical therapy exercises to improve the bite, breathing, and facial posture of those with orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs). The exercises target the face, neck, and mouth’s soft tissues to reach optimal tongue position and oral rest posture.
Recent research has shown that myofunctional therapy may reduce the symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing (such as snoring), and improve mild OSA (obstructive sleep apnea). This may improve muscle weakness of the tongue, mouth, and upper throat with strengthening exercises, especially when used in children.
How myofunctional therapy may be helpful:
Exercises of the tongue and lips may increase the muscle tone of the airway, promote nasal breathing, and reduce the risk of snoring and sleep apnea. These exercises may include sticking the tongue out, rolling it, clicking it, or pushing it toward the roof of the mouth. It may require instruction by a specialized Myofunctional therapist or speech therapist. Myofunctional therapy has little chance of side effects and is very effective.
You can begin treatment at home, if you are interested in learning more about myofunctional therapy, you can start by
Scheduling a professional assessment with me at: https://thehealthymouthmovment.as.me/
Or speak with your primary care healthcare provider who may refer you to a myofunctional therapist, a dentist, orthodontist, sleep specialist, or physical therapist, depending on your individual needs.
Why Does the Brain Need Oxygen?
The brain represents just 2% of a person’s body weight, yet it uses about 20% of the body’s oxygen supply. Without oxygen, the brain can’t perform even the most basic functions.
The brain relies on glucose to power the neurons that control everything in our bodies from conscious functions to automatic, unconscious processes like heart rate and digestion.
Without oxygen, the brain’s cells cannot metabolize glucose, and cannot convert glucose into energy.
After about 5-10 minutes of not breathing, you are likely to suffer irreversible brain damage. Permanent brain damage begins after only 4 minutes without oxygen, and death can occur as soon as 4 to 6 minutes later. Brain death means there is no brain activity. A person needs life support like a ventilator to help them breathe and stay alive.
When your brain is deprived of oxygen, then, the ultimate cause of brain death is inadequate energy to power the brain’s cells. When you mouth breath you get 18% less oxygen to your brain.
Changing your breathing habits truly can change or even save your life.
Taking ownership of your health and your family’s health is going back to basics starting with oxygen!
We can’t live on air and sunshine alone. The human body needs food and water to survive also.
At least 60% of the adult body is made of water.
A human can go without food for about three weeks but would typically only last three to four days without water and four to six minutes without oxygen.
Humans need oxygen, water, food, and sleep to survive.
This is the first of a four-part series on Taking ownership of your health by getting back to the 4 basics needs to survive and thrive.
If this was helpful please share. Next week we talk about water!
A healthy mouth is a healthy body and a healthy life!
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. “Get 10 Interesting Facts About Oxygen.” ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, thoughtco.com/oxygen-facts-606572.