The vital role of oxygen

Breathing is undoubtedly essential for the body and mind. It is very often given importance in terms of the balance of an organism for its physical and mental wellbeing. However, the question that can generally be asked is what happens when there is not enough oxygen intake.

This article is not about wearing a face mask due to the spreading disease. However, in such case it is about breathing CO2 and previous medical conditions[1].

Our question is a bit different – what important role oxygen plays in the body. Although this is obvious, let us delve into more detail. At this point we have to mention hypoxia and hypoxemia.  Hypoxia (low oxygen in the tissues) is the failure of oxygenation at the tissue level triggering anaerobic metabolism. In contrast, hypoxemia (low oxygen in the blood) is arterial oxygen tension (PaO2) below typical values. Now let’s define how low oxygen in the blood can be clinically proven. We can use Oxygen saturation (SpO2), which must be below 90 – 92%[2][3]. In terms of the PaO2 (partial pressure of oxygen), hypoxemia occurs when this marker is below 80 mmHg (millimetre of mercury)[4].

Common causes of hypoxemia are asthma, COPD, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, interstitial lung diseases (ILDs), and pulmonary hypertension.[5]

Let us move on and focus on the mental impact. For instance, brain hypoxia can cause symptoms such as temporary loss of memory, problems with moving parts of the body, inattentiveness, and consequently poor judgement[6].

Perhaps at this point it would be worth to introduce the idea that poor judegment may be caused by impaired cognitive functions of the individual perception. Furthermore, this could mean that responsible neurotransmitters do not work as they should, which could point out their deficiency, and that leads to the next question – whether oxygen deficiency may cause anxiety.

Following this idea we have to ask again: is it possible that the experience of low oxygen in the blood can initiate an anxiety disorder? Indeed, this depends on many possible circumstances. Nevertheless, by the influence of such experience, which is stressful for the body, it could work as a trigger. Many individuals are capable of finding a coping strategy; therefore such a mental state remains hidden. However, experience with low oxygen levels can initiate high perceptiveness in terms of survival, therefore a natural ability to cope/filter may be impaired.

On the other hand anxiety may be a psychosomatic marker, meaning no visible physical symptoms; nevertheless, the mental state points out emerging illness[7]. It is clear that anxiety influencing breathing may be short or fast.

Conclusion. Breathing is vital for the body and mind and although low oxygen in the blood may occur due to specific causes, it is useful to know what this means, how it happens, and how that will influence the mental state.

References

[1] Gillespie, C. (2020, May 29). Does Wearing a Face Mask Reduce Oxygen—and Can It Increase CO2 Levels? Here’s What Experts Say. Retrieved from https://www.health.com/condition/infectious-diseases/coronavirus/does-wearing-face-mask-increase-co2-levels

[2] Hypoxemia (low blood oxygen). (2018, December 1). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/hypoxemia/basics/definition/sym-20050930

[3] Goonasekera, C. P. P. (2017, September 5). SpO2: How Low Is Too Low? Retrieved from https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/spo2-how-low-is-too-low.php?aid=93121

[4] Samuel, J. (2020, June 16). Hypoxemia and Hypoxia. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-387-75246-4_97

[5] Mechanisms of hypoxemia. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5234199/

[6] Leonard, J. (2020, June 15). What to Know About Brain Hypoxia. Retrieved from
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322803#symptoms

[7] H. (2006, April 10). Anxiety About Anxiety Saved a Patient’s Life. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/11/health/psychology/11beha.html

Jakub Tencl, Ph.D. MHS Accred
Jakub Tencl, Ph.D. MHS Accred (Dip. Psychology) is a clinical hypnotherapist based out of London, Brighton, and Prague. He has become known for his uniquely effective methods, including a system of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy that he developed himself. A natural leader, he has organized multiple therapeutic groups, his commitment to his clients’ well-being always shining through.