A Book Review for People with Type-1 Diabetes by John C. A. Manley
Over the last year-and-a-half, my wife and I been experimenting with how breathing can relieve or worsen the many complications of type-1 diabetes. I even think it can affect blood flow to the beta cells. Thus, I was pleased to receive a review copy of Anders Olsoon’s The Power of Your Breath. I completed the book about twelve months ago. The late review is because I’m split on how to review it. I found half of the book exceptional and the other off course. Let’s start with the exceptional…
The Power of Your Breath contains more evidence and research regarding importance of nasal breathing than any other single document I’ve read. It makes it easy for people to understand the many benefits that come when you restrict the mouth to speaking and eating (not inhaling or exhaling). Personally, I think the book should have been called “The Power of Your Nostrils: Why You Should Eat With Your Mouth and Breathe With Your Nose.”
New to me were the studies (cited on page 93) looking at how nasal breathing affects brain function. Olsson points out that the nose is one of only three organs in the human to contain erectile tissue. The ear is the other (lesser known organ) to contain erectile tissue. Maybe he can write a sequel called “The Power of Your Ear” and explain why. And, I assume you know the name of the third organ to contain erectile tissue… Erectile tissue allows the nose to control which sinus cavity has more airflow. Olsson cites studies showing that increased air flow through the right nostril stimulates the left brain, and vice versa. This type of brain coordination wouldn’t take place with the single airway that mouth breathing affords.
One of the main benefits of nasal breathing, as Olsson emphasizes and readers of this blog will know, is that it reduces air flow. In other words, it stops you from over-breathing (as much). Over- breathing, according to page 88, can cause a 360% increase in stress hormones. Stress hormones, of course, brings higher blood sugars. All the more reason people with type-1 diabetes should adhere to nasal breathing, especially when exercising. Unless of course, you’re running from a psychotic bear wielding a machine gun… then open the mouth and let the stress hormones flow.
To make the point regarding exercise, page 109 contains a photo of the author completing a 21km race with duct tape across mouth. The captions says he ran the entire race without drinking anything. Page 185 cites research showing that we retain 42% more moisture when we breathe through our nose. And, it seems, you’ll also save 42% on Gatorade.
Page 168 has some scary photos of “diabetic feet.” They belonged to a wheelchair bound 48-year old women, nine years into dialysis. They look like they are ready for the circular saw – rotting and dark. Another picture, however, taken three months later, shows healed and flush feet after being treated with carbon dioxide enriched foot baths. Carbon dioxide (code name Co2) allows blood vessels to dilate, avoiding the crippling circulation problems so common to people with type-1 diabetes. Footbaths are great, but, as the book argues, far better to learn to breathe properly so you can have a CO2 enriched bloodstream. Nasal breathing causes more carbon dioxide to accumulate in the nasal cavity, lungs and ultimately the bloodstream. A simple way to fight back against most diabetic complications.
The Power of Your Breath shows how nasal breathing can help lessen or reverse many common health problems. Many of these ailments are common to people with type-1 diabetes. Chapter 9 focuses on sleep. Chapter 10 on the heart and circulatory system. Chapter 11 is about asthma and other breathing disorders. Chapter 12 focuses on “aches, pain and fatigue.” Finally, chapter 13, “Fat or Fit,” looks at how breathing affects digestion, metabolism and weight.
Oddly enough, after doing such a wonderful job at explaining the science and benefits behind nasal breathing chapter 7 goes rouge. Chapter 7 focuses on the use of a simple breathing device called the Relaxator. One was included with the book I received. Placed in the mouth, it sticks out, looking like a soother for a baby. Unlike a soother, it does allow air flow. There’s even a valve that you can adjust, decreasing or increasing the size of the hole.
I understand the idea behind this type of device (a super-simple version of the Frolov breathing device). The airhole in the Relaxator is much smaller than even a single nostril. Thus, by inhaling through the nose and then out through the device in your mouth, exhalation is extended. This would reduce the amount of air breathed per minute and allow for more Co2 to accumulate.
I certainly agree that using such a device would be better than regular mouth breathing and chronic low-grade hyperventatiliation. But the device still requires one to use the mouth to breathe – even if just for the exhale.
One of the big flaws, I see, with such an approach is that it does not allow Co2 to accumulate in the nasal cavity. When the person inhales (after exhaling through the device), the incoming (Co2-deficient air) is not mixed with the remains of the exhaled (Co2-enriched) air. Therefore the incoming breath would be considerably lower in Co2 (using the Relaxator) than if they had exhaled through the nose. (If that didn’t make sense, please make sure you’re breathing through your nose and re-read the paragraph.)
Secondly, the device might also keep people in the habit of mouth breathing (especially at night). It essentially rewards you for mouth breathing.
Thirdly, it would not be possible to keep the tongue on the roof of the mouth, while using the device. This seems odd, since the book contains many pages (136-141 por ejemplo) giving detailed explanations of why the correct position of the tongue (possible only with nasal breathing) prevents crowded teeth, tooth decay and facial malformations. It may even allow your brain and skull to grow bigger.
Lastly, the device requires that you force the air out of your lungs. This means that the diaphragm is not relaxed on the exhale. A tense exhale keeps the body in a perpetual state of tension and strain. Normal, healthy breathing, is characterized by complete relaxation of the diaphragm during exhale according to numerous studies (some which are included in the book).
I did experiment with the Relaxator breathing device but could not find any advantage to using it over approaches such as the Buteyko Method’s reduced breathing exercise. Possibly for the very infirm, forgettable and bereft of will power the device might be better than nothing. Otherwise, I find it far more beneficial to willfully focus on slowing and limiting the inhale, allowing a relaxed exhalation through the nose.
The subject of breath holds is the other place where I disagree with the author. The book discourages their use. While I do agree that extremely long and demanding breath holds are best avoided by the sick (and probably the well), short breath holds seem extremely valuable for decreasing Co2 sensitivity. Even page 30 of the book contains charts showing how healthy subjects naturally have a 2-3 second pause between exhalation and inhalation. Such a pause allows Co2 to accumulate. Short breath holds, I think, help develop this normal breathing pattern.
In conclusion, I highly recommend this book for its section on nasal breathing. It simplifies respiratory science so anyone can understand it. It explains how epidemic levels of poor breathing contribute to most modern diseases. Such under-the-radar respiratory problems are especially bad in those with type-1 diabetes (according to many studies).
I also agree with the author’s remedy for this epidemic: plenty of physical exercise with nasal breathing . But I cannot endorse the use of the breathing device or the avoidance of small breath holds. Of course, I invite you to research, experiment and decide for yourself. Otherwise, The Power of Your Breath The contains information worth more than gold to someone with type-1 diabetes.