Oxygen Fights Cancer

man breathing deeply in a field
November 27, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

If there’s one thing I think we can all agree on, it’s the importance of oxygen.

Unfortunately, air pollution is affecting the quality of the oxygen you breathe. And that means that you’re in danger of not getting enough of this vital substance to support good health.

Is oxygen really that important? Absolutely! Without it, humans can only survive for about five minutes. And a condition known as hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen, is linked to heart failure and other serious problems.

Actually, you’re designed to be a breathing machine. But thanks to the sedentary lifestyle, most people live on a steady diet of shallow breathing (filling only your upper chest with air), which can take a big toll on your health.

Low levels of oxygen set the stage for all sorts of unhealthy activities in your body, and some of those could leave you vulnerable to cancer and a host of other conditions.

Research with individuals who suffer from breathing difficulties shows how serious oxygen deficiency can be. For example, studies showed that middle-aged and older men who had problems breathing were at an increased risk of coronary artery disease, linked to heart attacks and strokes.

Meanwhile, older women with breathing problems had a higher likelihood of developing dementia.

I love to tell older patients about these studies. After all, how often does a safe, free method of protecting yourself against heart disease and dementia come along?

Learning deep breathing techniques and practicing regularly is a simple, effective way to protect your health!  

And then there’s the low-oxygen/cancer connection. Nobel Prize-winning scientist Otto Warburg, best known for discovering that “sugar feeds cancer,” also found a close connection between too little oxygen and cancer.

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Dr. Warburg’s work showed that oxygen-deprived cells are the primary cause of cancer. Furthermore, he found that, since cancer cells are anaerobic (meaning they live without oxygen) they actually thrive in a low-oxygen environment.

There is a solution to this problem, though. If, like most people, you fill only your upper chest with air when you take a deep breath, it’s time to relearn breathing. Your lungs need more than that. They need an active, engaged diaphragm.

If your lungs are healthy, you can learn to breathe deeply so you can take in more oxygen. Deep breathing requires you to use your diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from your abdomen, rather than just your lungs.

Taking the time to learn proper deep breathing techniques can turn your health around in so many ways. For example:

  • Patients with high blood pressure who practiced slow, deep breathing were able to lower their blood pressure scores better than a similar group of patients who were taught relaxation exercises.
  • Just 10 minutes of deep breathing after a meal reduced blood sugar levels, increased insulin, and decreased production of damaging free radicals.
  • Fibromyalgia patients experienced significantly less pain when using deep, slow breathing.
  • Heart disease patients suffering from depression experienced improved moods after learning deep breathing. Practicing deep breathing regularly has also eased anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

So how do you learn proper breathing? Here are my three steps to get you started on one of the most healthful practices available.

I recommend a practice known as “belly breathing” to my patients. You can do it, too. Here’s how:

  1. Place a blanket or exercise mat on the floor, and lie down on top. (If it’s difficult for you to lie on the floor, use your bed instead.) Relax your back into the floor. If that’s uncomfortable, place a pillow or rolled up towel under your knees.Keep your shoulders flat, as though you’re standing up straight, and stretch your torso and neck into a comfortable position. Your chest should be open and your back should feel relaxed and comfortable.
  2. Place your hands on your tummy as you inhale through your nose. This filters and warms incoming air before it reaches your lungs. As you inhale, make an effort to puff up your stomach, instead of your upper chest. Your hands should feel your stomach lifting.Most people are not accustomed to using their diaphragm, so this may feel strange at first. Just give it some time and allow your diaphragm to strengthen. Eventually, belly breathing becomes second nature.
  3. When you’ve filled your lungs, slowly squeeze your stomach back in toward your spine, forcing the air out of your lungs as you exhale. Ideally, it should take you longer to exhale than to inhale.Use enough force when exhaling to hear an audible “whoosh” sound as the air leaves your lungs. The more air you expel, the more fresh, clean air you’ll be filling your lungs with on the next inhale.

If you’re ill and find it difficult to practice deep breathing, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, available at some health centers, is another excellent option.

I recommend hyperbaric oxygen sessions to many patients because it’s an excellent way to increase the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream. Actually, whenever I feel like I need a bit of a boost, a hyperbaric oxygen session is all it takes to get my energy levels back where they belong.

When you’re starting out with deep breathing, try it for five minutes at a time several times a day. Many patients tell me that afterward, they feel relaxed and yet invigorated at the same time. Others say they feel more alive than they have in years. And not one patient has had a bad experience with deep breathing. Give it a try and see if you don’t become a believer, too.

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