Whenever you start breathing really hard or find yourself gasping for breath, what is the cause? Is it because of the shortage of oxygen in your body or an excess of carbon dioxide?

Your body breathes by taking in oxygen from outside of the body and exchanging it with carbon dioxide which your body then exhales. When you experience a shortage of breath or start gasping because of any kind of physical exertion, it is because of a buildup of carbon dioxide in your blood and lungs.

Luckily for us, we have an ingenious feedback mechanism that helps return our body to the right level of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood and lungs. Your spinal cord actually has a hollowed out center that is filled with cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid also surrounds your brain and the medulla oblongata, which is the center for controlling your breath.

The cerebrospinal fluid is able to absorb certain chemicals in the blood. So, when the blood has a higher level of carbon dioxide, the cerebrospinal fluid will in turn absorb more of that chemical as well. Increased levels of carbon dioxide lowers the pH of your blood, and in turn the cerebrospinal fluid. The lower pH in the cerebrospinal fluid alerts the medulla oblongata of the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. The medulla then triggers a reaction which causes deeper faster breaths. This expels excess carbon dioxide in the lungs and draws in more oxygen to balance it out.

It is so amazing how our body is able control our breathing and how we have these feedback mechanisms that can constantly return our blood pH to the correct level.



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