Sunday, December 27, 2009

Asthma, Apnea, GERD, and Wheat

...almost every medical and mental health condition seems to be linked in one way or another.
It’s refreshing to hear a doctor of modern American medicine who has the imagination to think outside of the box say what practitioners of alternative medicine have always postulated. I have just finished reading Sleep Interrupted by Steven Y. Park, M.D. I heard about his theory of a cause of GERD from reading the comments section of one of Dr. Mike Eades’s posts.

But his theory goes way beyond just GERD. It encompasses snoring and sleep apnea, panic attacks, heart conditions, depression, hormone problems, migraines, tinnitus, and even mononucleosis. There used to be a television show called Connections with James Burke. In this and other science documentaries that he did he would connect various seemingly disparate items and tie them all together in a spellbinding story. I loved that show and I hope that by the end of this post I will have made clear to you how the four things in my title connect and you may be surprised that the connection is not what you think.

Basically, Park deduced that one possible cause of all the disorders I mentioned is lack of sleep or interrupted sleep. OK so far, but he goes further to state that the sleep problem is due to narrowed airways caused by things like enlarged tonsils, flimsy nostrils, and tongue collapse. And he acknowledges the work of Weston Price who discovered significant jaw structure narrowing in people who ate a western type diet. The jaw narrowing creates crowded teeth and may be the reason almost none of us has room for our wisdom teeth any more. But more about Price later.

Park’s GERD theory is that when we relax in a deep sleep, our tongue may sink back in our throat enough to block the airway completely causing a vacuum that sucks up the acid from our stomachs. He also mentions a condition called LPRD (laryngopharyngeal reflux disease) which is mostly silent causing throat clearing, post-nasal drip, hoarseness, cough, etc. This happens when the acid reaches the throat. For those of us with the type of insomnia that causes early morning awakening (3 or 4 AM), his explanation is that at that time of the night, we are in REM sleep and not such a deep sleep as earlier, and the obstruction of our breathing naturally wakes us up. Sometimes we awaken so briefly, we are not aware of it. Other times, we wake completely and have trouble getting back to sleep. Do you dream anymore? If not, this may be an indication that you are not getting enough REM sleep.

Dr. Park’s remedies include sleeping on the left side instead of the back, dietary changes, relaxation techniques, following your circadian rhythm and many others we have heard before. Alas, he also offers expensive tests, devices, and of course surgery.

Although I started reading Park’s book because I wanted to find out more about his theory of GERD, I ended up being more fascinated by the connection I found to Buteyko breathing techniques which I have had to go back to recently due to contracting walking pneumonia. The pneumonia infection set off my asthma which caused me to return to my breathing exercises and to re-read Dr. Paul J Ameisen’s book Every Breath You Take finding new connections and ideas there.

Buteyko was a Russian doctor who discovered that a major cause of asthma and other breathing related disorders was over-breathing or hyperventilation. This chronic hyperventilation is not enough to cause panic attacks, although it can, but it does cause the body to defend itself by closing down the airways with inflammation and mucous discharge. Why such a defense? Buteyko believes that our bodies actually need more CO2 not more oxygen, that life formed when the Earth’s atmosphere had much more CO2 in it than it does now. Through evolutionary changes that took place as the atmosphere lost its CO2, our bodies adapted by retaining CO2 in the avioli of the lungs. When we over-breathe, the balance is upset and our body reacts to slow down our breathing to retain the CO2 by blocking the airways. Furthermore, through the Verigo-Bohr Effect lowered CO2 levels can cause the oxygen in our blood to get more “sticky” and actually deprive the cells of oxygen!

Oxygen enters the lungs, goes into the blood and is trapped by the haemoglobin molecule. How easily it is released, to feed the body cells, depends on the levels of carbon dioxide.

I haven’t been able to corroborate Buteyko’s thesis about the need for more CO2, but if he is right, this has implications for a number of diseases and many of them the same ones that Dr. Park mentions—asthma, emphysema, allergic rhinitis, sleep apnea, hypertension, angina, anxiety, and eczema.

One reason for this over-breathing that Ameisen doesn’t mention are the narrowed passageways that Dr. Park does describe, specifically narrow jaws that are the result of our parents and grandparents consumption of refined wheat, sugar, and processed foods. Who can forget the before and after pictures that Price shows in his classic book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration showing native peoples with wide mouths and straight teeth (and no periodontal disease) when they consumed their traditional diets, compared with the children of those natives who were born after the introduction of western foods. Narrowed jaws, besides other problems, forces us to let our tongue sit too far back in the mouth thereby partially obstructing our throats. My theory is that this causes us to feel oxygen-deprived and as a result to over-breath to compensate.

And that’s also my connection to wheat. I picked wheat out of all the other foods that cause Price’s description of physical degeneration because, to me, it seems to be the worst offender. If you select wheat on Dr. William Davis’s blog, you will find that he has nothing good to say about wheat.

Another dentist who has written about this subject is Raymond Silkman, D.D.S. Silkman offers one easy remedy for those of us who suffer from this problem and it again involves the tongue. Silkman states that the proper placement of the tongue is up and forward with the tip of the tongue just behind the front teeth. A narrow jaw specifically a narrow upper palate and crowded teeth will prevent the tongue from resting in its proper location. I tested myself for the tongue blockage that Park described and found that while lying on my back and with my tongue up and forward, I could breathe more easily. When I let my tongue go back to its normal position for me, which is about half-way back, my throat was blocked partially. If I relaxed my tongue completely, then my throat was blocked completely.

The most important orthodontic appliance that you all have and carry with you twenty-four hours a day is your tongue. People who breathe through their nose also normally have a tongue that postures up into the maxilla. When the tongue sits right up behind the front teeth, it is maintaining the shape of the maxilla every time you swallow. Every time the proper tongue swallow motion takes place it spreads up against maxilla, activating it and contributing to that little cranial motion, that cranial pumping that we discussed earlier. Individuals who breathe through their mouths have a lower tongue posture and the maxilla does not receive the stimulation from the tongue that it should.

So to put it together, I was born with a narrow jaw (the dentist gives me a child's toothbrush as a parting gift) with some crossed teeth due to my mom eating wheat (and other processed foods), which causes my tongue to sit too far back in my mouth, which causes me to mouth breathe and over-breathe, which is one source of my asthma, and have total tongue collapse at night which causes me to wake in the early AM and not get as much sleep as I would like and may be the cause of my GERD as well. Remedies: Buteyko breathing, i.e. light, shallow breathing, taping my mouth shut at night to keep it closed thereby forcing me to breath through the nose, sleeping on the left side, consciously moving my tongue up and forward, and oil pulling. Yes, oil-pulling. I’ll have to explain that last connection in another post. This one is long enough.


  1. Did you read this?

  2. Yup, so many symptoms are related, as I learned.

  3. Thanks for the links. Like Ms. Brody who discovered the benefits of shallow breathing while swimming (the best form of exercise for asthmatics), I discovered it myself while in the midst of the worst asthma attack I have ever had. It was many years ago and was so bad I found I couldn't do much besides lay on the bed and breathe quietly. I couldn't even call to my husband to let him know I was in distress. I lay on my side and hardly moved. After some time, the symptoms went away! What I didn't realize is that this is how I should be breathing all the time.