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Benefits of nose-breathing not to be sniffed at

By Barry He | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-07-16 10:10

Concern is growing, globally, about the cost of lockdowns.

Justified as they are in the face of the deadly novel coronavirus pandemic, the price is high.

And statistics show that, around the world, there has been a fall in the number of accident and emergency visits, as people keep away over fears of transmission of the virus in that setting.

Other statistics show a significant drop in cancer referrals, leading to concerns that vital medical procedures are being affected by the lockdowns.

The National Health Service in England, for example, reports a 60 percent fall in the referral of cancer patients.

Less obvious, however, is the impact on our mental health of the lockdowns and their hampering of our social and professional lives.

We may be able to help ourselves by thinking about the way we breathe and meditate.

In times of stress, we tend to start hyperventilating and breathe in through our mouths.

Knowledge about the best way to breathe is not widespread.

Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth is common in yoga and meditation but few realize there is science behind it.

Our nasal cavities produce a molecule called nitric oxide, which has the ability to increase blood fl ow in the lungs and increase oxygen levels. By breathing through the nose, nitric oxide is delivered straight into the lungs where it can also aid in fighting off infections.

The sinuses are where nitric oxide is created. Medical-grade nitric oxide is identical to what is produced in the nasal cavities. By breathing through the nose, you are in a sense directly injecting nitric oxide into the lungs.

The molecule is so effective, it is given as a gas in medical settings for newborn babies suffering from persistent pulmonary hypotension. Just why it is so effective was discovered as recently as 1998.

Nitric oxide relaxes the smooth muscle of the arteries, preventing high blood pressure, promotes blood fl ow, and reduces the risk of blood clots.

The antiviral properties of nitric oxide are currently being researched for patients with COVID-19.

Studies in the United States might end up showing that increased oxygen levels in the lungs from nitric oxide inhibit the growth and spread of the virus in the lungs.

With a vaccine still a while away, finding an effective treatment could be a game-changer, especially if there is the potential to reduce the stress on ICU and ventilator capacities.

Research carried out in 2004 on SARS, another coronavirus, indicated that compounds containing nitric oxide inhibited viral proteins replicating their genetic material, called RNA.

The psychological benefits of calm breathing exercises and meditation are well established, and millions around the world practice this in one form or another. Cultural practices and attitudes toward calm breathing may differ slightly, but emerging research indicates that the science behind it is universal.

In an age where there is both the threat of a virus, and constant worrying news about that threat, it is more important than ever to look after our mental health. And when we look after ourselves, we help those who are closest to us.

Barry He is a London-based columnist for China Daily.

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