December 28, 2023

O2: Power of Breath

dr. sci. Almir Maljević, founder at PFHSC centre
Oxygen is the molecule of life, integral to every reaction in our bodies crucial for sustaining life and movement. It is the foundational element for a long and quality life. Without oxygen, death is inevitable. Fortunately, our bodies possess a unique "computer" system enabling us to breathe without consciously thinking about it. Our brain and neurons ensure the seamless exchange of oxygen and the transport of oxygenated blood throughout every cell in our bodies.

Oxygen Chain

To better comprehend the statement "Oxygen is the molecule of life," one must first understand how and why our bodies utilize oxygen. Oxygen serves as a catalyst for releasing energy in every cell, necessary for life and movement. This process involves using oxygen to oxidize or, in other words, "burn" the nutrients we consume, primarily fats and carbohydrates. Essentially, the "burning" process closely resembles what occurs in a fireplace when you ignite a piece of wood; oxygen, interacting with wood in a chemical reaction, releases energy, in this case, heat. Oxidizing nutrients releases energy that our cells use to stay alive, move, and perform other vital functions like breathing, digestion, heartbeat, and brain function. Although this process may sound simple, it involves several systems in our bodies and engages most key organs.

How does the process work? First, oxygen molecules enter the lungs through inhalation. Lungs then absorb oxygen molecules through specialized membranes called alveoli and transfer them into the bloodstream. Their transfer into the bloodstream occurs through a specialized hormone called hemoglobin, which can attract and retain oxygen molecules on its surface, acting as a transportation mechanism. As hemoglobin attracts oxygen molecules, the blood becomes rich in oxygen that can be distributed throughout the body. Oxygen-rich blood is pumped through the body with the help of the heart, assisting oxygen molecules in reaching every cell.
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Metabolic resting testing 

When oxygen molecules reach their destination, they separate from hemoglobin and enter the cell. Within the cell, there are dedicated systems called mitochondria responsible for using the newly received oxygen to oxidize and break down the fats and carbohydrates we have consumed. Breaking down fats and carbohydrates releases energy used to maintain the appropriate temperature in our bodies and facilitate movement (e.g., working, walking, or exercising). The oxidation of fats and carbohydrates releases carbon dioxide (CO2), which needs to be cleared from our bodies. Consequently, CO2 is expelled from the cell and released into the bloodstream, where it is transferred back to the lungs. Finally, it is expelled into the environment through exhalation. This process is also known as aerobic metabolic respiration, cellular respiration, or aerobic metabolism and constitutes more than 95% of our total energy production.

It's crucial to note from the above-described metabolic process that we call metabolism that four significant systems are involved in the absorption, delivery, and utilization of oxygen in burning fats and carbohydrates: lungs, heart, blood, and cells. This means that any disruption in any of these four components, the heart, blood, lungs, or cells, can directly relate to the occurrence of metabolic disorders, which can have far-reaching consequences for health. 
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Metabolic stress testing

Chronic Diseases and the Oxygen Chain

Chronic diseases are usually conditions caused by lifestyle factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, or smoking, leading to a continuous decline in the quality and duration of life. The four most common deadly chronic conditions are heart disease, lung disease, cancer, and diabetes.

In addition to cancer, the scientific community now openly acknowledges that heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes are highly interconnected in terms of their underlying drivers and a high degree of comorbidity (one leading to the other). The term currently used to characterize this collective disorder is "cardiometabolic syndrome." Regardless of exercise or diet's contribution to the cardiometabolic syndrome, its occurrence can always be traced back to the oxygen chain. Specifically, a disruption in the oxygen chain in any of the four fundamental components, heart, blood, lungs, or cells, is directly associated with the onset of the cardiometabolic syndrome, namely hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance, as intermediary conditions leading to type 2 diabetes.

From all that has been said, it is possible to conclude that the way oxygen flows through the body is the best representation of one's health. Therefore, methods have been developed to analyze and monitor the oxygen chain to recognize potential issues in the functioning of the lungs, heart, circulatory system, and cells in a timely manner, and to take measures aimed at improving the length and quality of life. One of the most advanced analyses is breath analysis, also known as metabolic testing, representing the gold standard, i.e., currently the best scientifically verified test in determining how the oxygen chain functions. 

Metabolic Testing

Metabolic testing is a straightforward examination that, depending on what needs to be tested, can have three components: resting testing, spirometry, and stress testing.

Resting testing lasts for 10 minutes, during which the tested person lies calmly and breathes normally in a lying or semi-lying position. The information collected in this part of the testing provides insights into how the body functions physiologically in resting situations. Based on the collected data, it is possible to determine the current metabolism rate (expressed through an accurate calorie count), the efficiency in burning fats, the state of the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system, including how breathing affects cognitive abilities and posture. Furthermore, this testing identifies very specific dietary guidelines according to the desired goal, including precise calorie intake and macronutrient structure (fats, proteins, carbohydrates) necessary to achieve the goal.

Spirometry is a three-minute protocol designed to determine the maximum lung capacity. Deviations from reference values may suggest the need for respiratory physical therapy, focused on revitalizing lung tissue and strengthening the muscles responsible for breathing.

Metabolic stress testing lasts for 12 to 15 minutes, during which the person is gradually exposed to stress (on a bike or treadmill) according to their capabilities. After the test, insight into 13 important biomarkers is gained, based on which it can be determined how old a person is biologically (which can significantly differ from chronological age), whether some of the important systems (respiratory, cardiovascular, metabolic, cellular health) pose a problem for health, and whether they affect our cognitive abilities (anxiety, panic attacks). These biomarkers provide an opportunity to define personalized training guidelines, both in terms of training structure and intensity, tailored to a person's biology and physiology and aligned with the desired goal, whether it's a long and quality life, weight correction, or sports performance improvement.

Breath has incredible power and contains key information about your health. Whether your goal is to lose a few pounds, prevent the onset of metabolic disorders (insulin resistance, diabetes, artery blockages, heart failure, etc.), or run your first half-marathon, your success depends on a precise understanding of your physiological needs. Metabolic testing provides insight into key components of your biology, based on which you can receive personalized dietary and training guidelines and significantly increase the chances of achieving your goal. By adhering to these defined guidelines, you can expect results within six months that will be envied by all those who leave their health concerns for some other time when it becomes too late.