Last we left our son, he had already spent 15 minutes in the bathroom. And we needed to be out the door 5 minutes ago. As I spoke about in a previous post, such stressful situations can easily lead to a cortisol-induced blood sugar rise. For someone, like my wife Nicole, with type-1 diabetes, this is a one-way ride to a blood sugar of 10mmol/L (180mg/dL).
According to my research, if you avoid the wrong breathing pattern, you may be able to avoid a cortisol dump. Just look at common ways of responding to stressful situations. See if you can spot the breathing characteristic they all have in common:
- taking a deep breath
All of these typical responses involve forced exhalation. Just try and talk normally without forcing the air out of you lungs. It’s not possible. Therefore, talking loudly requires even more air to be forced out of the lungs even faster. Same goes for sighing — forced exhalation in disguise. Taking a deep breath is even more covert. While grumbling and grunting may fly right under the radar.
What happens when we forcefully exhale air from the lungs? We lower our CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels. As I’ve spoken about in previous posts, low CO2 levels (a condition known as hypocapnia) triggers an array of “fight-flight” responses in the body. Blood sugar rises. Circulation is redirected from the organs and brain to the arms and legs. Blood pressure rises. Less oxygen is released from hemogloblin, so our body switches over to fermenting sugar to move muscles.
A Swiss study from the Universty of Bern found that over-breathing caused a 360% increase in the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline. These two stress hormones are the precursors to cortisol. Interestingly, when the test subjects were given air enriched with 5% CO2 their stress hormone levels remained unchanged. This explains why heavy breathing and forced exhalation is not harmful if you are exerting your muscles. Running from tigers produces CO2 in the blood. Fuming over a nine-year old’s tardiness, does not.
So next time your son, boss, spouse, neighbor, car, computer or elected official causes your stress… watch for forced exhalations. That’s a sign that your glucometer may end up displaying a rather high blood sugar in an hour or so.
Thinking outside the type-1 matrix,
–John C. A. Manley
P.S. For more information on how breath control equals blood sugar control please read this previous post: Buteyko Method Brings “Insulin Consumption to Its Minimum”
P.P.S. For specific techniques for mastering stress via the breath check out Patrick McKeown’s book with the very long title. It’s called Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten Your Mind – The Only Way to Oxygenate Your Brain and Stop Excessive and Useless Thoughts Featuring the Buteyko Breathing Method and Mindfulness. You can purchase it from amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.co.uk or your local bookshop.