By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Breathing just occurs. Most of us never give it a second thought unless we catch a bad cold, our nose gets stuffed up and we find ourselves having trouble breathing. But breathing, which most of us do 30 to 50 times a minutes, actually is a deeply complex and potential healing process.
Breathing, at least, what happens after we take a breath is actually not that simple. Scientists looking at the chemical changes that take place in our arteries after we take a breath have discovered something shocking --- we can alter our blood pressure and kidney function simply by changing the way we take a breath. How does breathing change blood pressure?
With Every Breath You Take, You Change Your Blood Pressure
Did you know that one of the quickest way to raise your blood pressure is by simply holding your breath?
When you hold your breath, you withhold oxygen from your entire body including your kidneys. Your kidneys need oxygen to efficiently filter out salt. Holding your breath makes your kidneys retain salt, which drives up your blood pressure.
Specifically, holding your breath causes " increases in plasma hydrogen and bicarbonate ion concentrations, decreases in hematocrit, and increases in circulating levels of sodium pump inhibitors that are sensitive to plasma volume", according to a 1998 study led by Dr. Anderson of Laboratory of Behavioral Sciences, Gerontology Research Center, National Institute on Aging/NIH.
Stress Raises Blood Pressure by Inhibiting Breathing
You tend to breathe in a more shallow way when you are under stress. Shallow breathing delivers less oxygen to your kidneys, which again then retain salt and cause blood pressure to rise.
Practice Deep Breathing to Drive Down Blood Pressure
Just as holding your breath can raise blood pressure, consciously inhaling deeply can lower it. Dr. Anderson of the NIH found that deep breathing lowers kidney sodium excretion, increases sodium pump inhibitors in plasma and inhibits sodium pump activity.
As an anecdote, I have a friend who comes from a family with a history of strokes. She was advised to go on blood pressure medications when her blood pressure stayed stubbornly above 140. But even after taking two medications, she was only partly successful in lowering the hypertension, which stubbornly remained above 125.
She finally was able to lower her blood pressure herself by slowly inhaling and exhaling. She breathed slowly in to the count of 5 and slowly out to the count of 5. After two weeks, her blood pressure stayed consistently below 120/80.