Sometimes there is an easy common sense way to explain what looks like a complex scientific process. For instance, I recently came across a research article explaining that in rat studies dopamine was synthesized better at a lower pH. In fact, the ideal pH was 6.1 (slightly acidic) and dopamine formation actually decreased in comparison by 25% when the pH was 7.4 (slightly alkaline). Dopamine is a chemical molecule used in the brain to signal and basically functions to activate a sense of arousal and motivation in our brains, dopamine is not only tied to our motivation and reward systems it also fires through and kick-starts the motor and autonomic systems. Whenever you hear activation of the brain you also have to understand that activation and motivation in the brain mean movement. To say that differently, we are activated and motivated to do something; that requires us to move and it makes perfect sense that if we are motivated to do something then we move. This is the hard wiring of the brain and you can’t separate thinking, emotion and movement, they are wired together. Think about it what happens to our muscles and breathing when we move or exercise? We start to produce CO2 in our muscles, we breathe deeper, the ratio of inhalation to exhalation changes and during this process our blood becomes more acidic due to the gaseous exchange of CO2 and oxygen, as well as the build-up of lactic acid in our muscles. This process has a huge effect on our health! So let’s looking at three common disorders where breathing and exercise can have a simple and profound impact.
In Parkinson’s disease, the part of the brain that produces dopamine (the substantia nigra) has degenerated and there is a lack of dopamine produced. To make this worse breathing becomes difficult because the posturing of the person becomes worse as the disease develops, forcing the person to become hunched over causing rigidity in the spine and ribs. If you would like to experience what it’s like roll your shoulders in and slouch foreward, now try to take in a deep breath; compare that to standing up nice and tall with shoulders back while you take in a nice deep breath. Then imagine every breath you take throughout your day is a struggle like the first one. Good news is even with Parkinson’s Disease you can exercise your breathing, therefore change your body’s pH and hopefully improve the likelihood of producing dopamine more efficiently.
Dopamine fires up to the brain’s frontal lobes (our thinking centers) and allows us to be focused and alert. Studies have shown that these regions are smaller in an ADHD student’s brain. Studies have also shown that exercise can improve the symptoms of ADHD. Based on this and what we have explained about breathing we suggest that frequent burst of exercise that changes a person’s breathing will have a positive effect on focus, alertness, and thinking.
Have a look at people who are anxious and see what their breathing is like, or next time you feel anxious pay attention to how you are breathing. You will see that the breaths are short and shallow. They usually are coming from the upper ribs and neck muscles. This causes a person’s CO2 to be breathed off, therefore causing a decrease in pH and therefore decrease the chances of producing dopamine efficiently. Not good if you would like to think clearly. Bag breathing can be used in these situations and hey exercise that changes our breathing will have an even greater effect.
There are many breathing techniques out there; a simple one we recommend is to breath with a ratio of twice as long on the exhale. Start by placing your hand on your belly and push out against your hand as you breath in through your nose, feel the breath come up your lower ribs and move up through the chest stopping at full inhalation at the top of the shoulders, then slowly breath out through the mouth relaxing your neck and shoulders first, feel the breath slowly come down, relaxing the ribs and finishing by pulling the stomach in. The pace should be comfortable; the hardest part for several people is timing the exhalation to be slow and twice as long as the inhalation. So choose a ratio that is doable (ex. 4 seconds in/8 seconds out) then increase as you get better (ex. 10 seconds in/20 seconds out). Enjoy the rich free oxygen and improve your brain’s ability to produce dopamine.
Dr. David Hardy, D.C.
April 25, 2018
Functional Endocrinology of Ohio
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Dr. Keith S. Ungar, Chiropractic Physician
The effects of pH on dopamine and serotonin synthesis by rat brain striatal synaptosomes: Manoucher, Messripour, Year: 1992 | Volume: 24 | Issue Number: 1 | Page: 32-35
Brain development and ADHD: Amy L.Kraina F. Xavier Castellanosa Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 26, Issue 4, August 2006, Pages 433-444.
Physical Exercise Alleviates ADHD Symptoms: Regional Deficits and Development Trajectory: Trevor Archer, Richard M. Kostrzewa Neurotoxicity Research
February 2012, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 195–209.