Now, stupid is a bit harsh but it’s not my wording, a new study is genuinely suggesting that mouth breathing can decrease the development of brain cells and make people generally a bit slower in terms of focus and attention.
A New York Times article relating to the benefits of nasal breathing reported that “a new study suggests there may be a legitimate basis for ‘mouth breather’ being slang for stupid. Japanese researchers obstructed the nostrils of young rats, forcing them to breathe through their mouths, and two weeks later found that the rodents needed twice as long to navigate a maze and had developed fewer brain cells than their underestimated counterparts.”
In the same article Nicholas Michalak, chief executive at Somnifix, a company that sells adhesive strips for people who want to tape their mouths shut at night to enforce nose breathing. Says “there are very few things that people can do better to improve their health than simply switching to nasal breathing.” who also tapes up his mouth every night to encourage nasal breathing during sleep.1
When advising the public to make the switch to breathing through the noggin (that’s your nose by the way) the article advises that ‘You’ll notice that you’re working harder; the nasal route adds at least 50 percent more resistance to airflow, which turns out to be beneficial for your lungs, heart and even the biochemistry of your brain’
Perhaps the researchers aren’t making such a bizarre claim as it would first appear. Countless studies and researchers have proved mouth breathing will more often than not lead to over breathing alongside a host of other issues. Patrick Mckeown, one of the worlds leading breath re-education experts confirms; “Over-breathing means regularly breathing a greater amount of air than the body requires, and is characterised by breathing through the mouth, regular sighing, and upper chest breathing. The long-term effects of over-breathing may lead to organ damage, resulting in the development of illness, respiratory problems, heart disease, high blood pressure and other health issues.”2 We need both oxygen and carbon dioxide to deliver oxygen effectively to the tissues, getting rid of too much carbon dioxide by over breathing is much less advantageous. The harder we breathe the less oxygen is delivered to the muscles and organs, including the brain.
So how do we stop killing our own brain cells? The answer is so simple it will blow your mind! (pun intended) I had never thought to connect breathing and the brain before geeking out on all the research, but turns out breathing actually does play a big role in enhancing cognitive function and increasing brain activity but only when performed through the nose!
A brilliant summary, by the breathing diabetic, of a 2016 study on how nasal breathing effects cognitive function states that ‘taken together, the iEEG measurements and cognitive tasks suggest that nasal breathing promotes coherent brainwave oscillations in the piriform cortex, amygdala and hippocampus. This coherence leads to improved cognitive function, especially during nasal inhalation.’ A direct quote from the researchers revealed that, ‘We also found that the route of breathing was critical to these effects, such that cognitive performance significantly declined during oral breathing.’3
(The Amygdala and Hippocampus form parts of the limbic system and are associated with emotions)
So there you have it! If getting better sleep wasn’t a good enough offer for you to make the switch to nasal breathing, could you be tempted by a higher functioning brain? Smart is the new sexy after all.
Noriko Tsubamoto-Sano et al., “Influences of Mouth Breathing on Memory and Learning Ability in Growing Rats,” Journal of Oral Science 61, no. 1 (2019): 119–24; Masahiro Sano et al.
1“How to Be a Nose Breather,” The New York Times Magazine, Apr. 23, 2019