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Health, or, How to Live

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    HOW TO LIVE [NUMBER FOUR]

    RESPIRATION: OR THE FUNCTION OF THE LUNGS

    “IT is, doubtless, a matter of general knowledge, that, according to modern chemistry, the atmosphere is composed of several gases or kinds of air, and a considerable quantity of water in the state of vapor. Pure air, however, according to the statements of chemistry, consists of twenty parts of oxygen gas, and eighty parts of nitrogen, or azote. But by means of the chemical changes of composition and decomposition which are continually going on in nature, various gases are evolved, and become more or less diffused throughout the atmosphere; some of which are too subtle to be detected by the closest scrutiny of the chemist, and others are so volatile and light that they ascend to the upper regions of the atmosphere, where they probably undergo new changes and enter into new forms. Some, however, enter into combinations near the earth’s surface, and are of sufficient specific gravity or weight to remain in the lower region of the atmosphere. Of these, about one per cent. of carbonic acid gas, formed by a chemical combination of certain proportions of oxygen and carbon, is always and universally present.HHTL 193.1

    “The oxygen and azote of the atmosphere are not chemically combined as in nitric acid, but intimately mixed together; so that, when a portion of the oxygen of a given volume of air is consumed, the remaining oxygen diffuses itself equally throughout the whole volume, as fast as the consumption takes place. This law of nature, established by a wise and benevolent Creator, is of immense importance to all living bodies, both animal and vegetable.HHTL 193.2

    “Now, in regard to the changes which take place in the lungs, there are certain phenomena or facts attending respiration, on which physiologists have built their theories of the function. In the first place, the venous blood goes from the heart to the lungs, with a dark purple color, and unfitted for the purposes of nutrition in the system, and returns from the lungs to the heart with a bright red color, and possessed of all the properties requisite for supplying the general wants of the vital economy. In the next place, the air goes into the lungs composed of about seventy-nine or eighty parts of azote, nineteen or twenty parts of oxygen, and one per cent. of carbonic acid gas; and returns from the lungs with about the same proportion of azote, five or six parts of oxygen, and thirteen or fourteen parts of carbonic acid gas. In some way or other, therefore, the oxygen of the inspired air suffers a great diminution of volume in the lungs, and a volume of carbonic-acid gas is produced, equal, or nearly equal, to the loss of oxygen.”HHTL 194.1

    “The function of the lungs may be considered as two-fold. As depurating or cleansing organs, they eliminate the impurities of the blood, in a manner corresponding with the functions of the external skin and the mucous membrane generally, and with all the excretory organs of the body; and as organs of nutrition, they digest the air, and convert a portion of it into the substance of the blood.HHTL 194.2

    “As depurating organs, the lungs by a vital process continually excrete from the venous blood, and perhaps also from the chyle, in their capillary vessels, certain substances, the elimination of which is necessary to prepare those fluids for the nutrient purposes of the system. As soon as the excreted substance or substances are thrown into the air-cells, the matter composing them yields to the affinities of inorganic chemistry, and issues from the lungs in the form of vapor, of carbonic-acid gas, etc. The vapor thrown from the lungs in this manner, sometimes amounts to nearly a quart of water in twenty-four hours. A portion of this is supposed to come from the chyle. The quantity of carbonic-acid gas discharged from the lungs in the twenty-four hours is also very considerable. This gas is unfit for animal respiration, and when inhaled into the lungs without a mixture of atmospheric air, it soon causes suffocation, esphyxia, and death. This effect, however, is owing to its negative rather than to its positive qualities, or to the absence of oxygen, by which alone animal respiration is supported; for carbonic acid gas can be introduced freely into the stomach without having any of the effects of a poison upon the system. It is by the consumption of the oxygen of the air, and the generation of this gas by the burning of charcoal in an open vessel in a tight room, that life is often destroyed; and for the same reason, a large number of people in a close or ill-ventilated room, by their continued respiration and perspiration, render the air very impure and unwholesome; and were it not for a wise and benevolent arrangement in the general economy of nature, in regard to this gas, all animals would soon be destroyed by it. Being specifically heavier than atmospheric air, it sinks below the nostrils and mouth of the animal during the little pause which follows expiration, and thus is prevented from being drawn into the lungs again in the succeeding act of inspiration. Descending toward the earth, it becomes diffused through the atmosphere, and during the day it is taken up by the vegetable organs of nutrition, and decomposed, the oxygen being set free, and the carbon retained and converted to vegetable substance. During the night, or prevalence of darkness, however, plants, like animals, are said to give off carbonic-acid gas. But it is supposed that their consumption of it during the day is sufficient to preserve the atmosphere in a state proper for animal respiration.HHTL 194.3

    “When the blood in the capillary vessels of the lungs is purified in the manner I have described, it is prepared to receive a portion of the digested and assimilated air. This is also a purely vital process. The lungs are constantly receiving fresh supplies of aeriform aliment, which, like the food received into the stomach, consist of certain adapted proportions of nutritious and innutritious substances, and although expiration always immediately follows inspiration, yet the lungs are never entirely exhausted, but a considerable volume of air always remains in them, much larger than that which is inhaled at an ordinary inspiration. 1“According to Menzies and Goodwill, five times the quantity of air remains in the lungs after ordinary expiration than is ordinarily expired or inspired at any one time.” The air which we expire, therefore, is probably very little, if any of it, that which was received by the immediately preceding inspiration. But each successive volume of inspired air probably displaces an equal volume of the retained air which has been acted on by the digestive powers of the lungs; and thus something like an aerial circulation, or the gradual process of digestion in the alimentary cavity, takes place in these organs.”HHTL 195.1

    “The quantity of oxygen consumed by an individual is said to vary with the nature and degree of exercise, state of mind, degree of health, kind of food, temperature of the atmosphere, etc. Much more is consumed when the weather is cold than when it is warm, more during digestion than when the stomach is empty, and less is consumed when the food is vegetable than when it is animal, less when the body is at rest than when in action, and less when the mind is calm than when it is disturbed. The average quantity, however, is supposed to be about two pounds and eight ounces, Troy weight, per day.”HHTL 196.1

    “In suffering this two-fold function of the lungs, the chyle and dark purple venous blood become converted into bright red arterial blood, fitted to supply all the wants of the vital economy. And the more completely the function of the lungs is fulfilled, the more richly is the blood endowed with those delicate properties which gratefully exhilarate every part where the living current flows, healthfully invigorating all the organs, and giving increased elasticity to all the springs of action in the system, causing every function to be more perfectly performed, imparting buoyancy to the animal spirits, and delightfully exciting and facilitating the intellectual operations.”HHTL 196.2

    “We have seen that in the function of respiration, or breathing, a vital process is continually going on, by which a portion of the air received into the lungs is digested and incorporated with the blood, not as oxygen, but as a vitally assimilated principle of the living blood, and that by this function of the lungs, the grand process of digestion is completed, and the arterial fluid is fitted for all the purposes of the system in the great function of nutrition. We have seen also that pure air is composed of twenty parts of oxygen and eighty parts of azote, by volume or measure, and that the lungs, as living organs, are constitutionally adapted to air consisting of precisely these proportions; and consequently every deviation from this point towards an excess either of azote or oxygen, is injurious to the lungs and to the physiological interests of the body. Hence, it is of the utmost importance that the lungs should be constantly supplied with pure air, not only for the preservation of their own health, but for the preservation of the integrity of their function, the health of their blood, and the general welfare of the system. But we have seen that the whole external skin performs a function which, in many respects, closely resembles that of the lungs, and that it not only appears to consume a portion of the oxygen of the air, but also, like the lungs, is continually eliminating the excreted impurities of the blood, among which the chemist detects a considerable quantity of carbonic-acid gas, which, when received into the lungs without a mixture of atmospheric air, is almost instantly destructive to life, causing an immediate suspension of all the powers of animal life; and if relief is not promptly afforded, organic life is very soon destroyed. Carbonic-acid gas is formed in considerable quantities by decaying vegetable matter. Living vegetables also give it off during the night, but consume it during the day. Much the greatest source of it, however, is animal respiration and perspiration. Hence, crowded assemblies in churches, theatres, hospitals, prisons, etc., rapidly consume the oxygen of the air, and produce carbonic-acid gas; and consequently if such places are not well ventilated, the air will soon become impure, causing difficulty in breathing, vertigo or dizziness of the head, nausea, faintness, trembling, relaxation of the voluntary muscles, slow and feeble pulse, spasms, asphyxia, and death. In this manner the lives of many have been destroyed; but a vastly greater number has been cut off by plagues, and putrid and typhus and other fevers, brought on, or excessively aggravated by impure air. And it is principally owing to the effect which a dense population has on the atmosphere, and to the want of proper ventilation, that cities are less healthy than the country.HHTL 197.1

    “We see, therefore, that it is of very great importance that our habitations should be so situated and so constructed as to admit a perfect ventilation in every part, and that our bedrooms in particular should be large and airy, and that too many persons should not sleep in the same room. We perceive also that it is of great importance that every person should have frequent and free access to the pure open air, and it is equally important that at such times every one should be capable of drinking in the sweet breath of heaven without the least restraint; of inflating the lungs fully and deeply, and freely expanding the chest without any artificial restriction whatever.HHTL 198.1

    “The effect of such a respiration of pure air is truly wonderful. When the careful mother has been shut up in her nursery, or confined to her house for a number of days in succession, diligently attending to maternal duties or domestic concerns, till she begins to feel a nervous oppression and a dull headache coming upon her, if she breaks away from her confinement, and walks or rides in the pure open air, even for a few minutes, she feels a new life and a new spirit entering into her blood, and diffusing itself throughout her whole system; her languor, and depression, and headache, are dispelled, her eye becomes bright and sparkling, her countenance animated, her form more erect and stately, and her step more elastic and graceful; and she returns to her domestic empire and household duties almost a new creature, and seems to carry with her into that empire and through all those duties a new and salubrious atmosphere; and if she is a nursing mother, her babe will be almost equally benefited by the consequent improvement of its natural food. Nor are such advantages confined to the mother. Every female, and every studious and sedentary person, and every invalid that is able to move or to be moved in the open air, should endeavor to be abroad in it as frequently as propriety and duty will admit.HHTL 198.2

    “The air bath, as Dr. Franklin calls it, is exceedingly salutary to every one in health, and to almost every invalid. If the whole skin may be considered a breathing organ, then should it not only be kept clean, but for its own health and vigor, and the health and vigor of the whole system, it should be permitted to receive the full and free embraces of the pure air at least twice in the twenty-four hours. Every morning and evening the whole body should be exposed freely to the air, and the skin exercised with the flesh-brush, a coarse towel, or with the hand; and five or ten minutes spent in such exposure and exercise in the morning will prove very salutary to every one who has not gone too far in disease to bear it. Let it always be remembered that man was made for the open air; it is his natural dwelling place, and the habit of cooping up in ceiled houses is always in some measure detrimental to the physiological interests of the human constitution.HHTL 199.1

    “If there be one class of human beings to whom pure air is more essential than any other, it is young children; they soon droop and become puny and diseased if they are confined to impure air; and on the other hand, few things serve so much to impart health and vigor to sickly and puny children as free access to the pure open air of heaven. Nurseries ought, therefore, to be thoroughly ventilated every day, and kept perfectly sweet and clean, and the air of them should not be consumed by too many lungs; and infants should be carried abroad as early and as freely as prudence will allow. And when children become old enough to run alone, they should be daily taken into the open air when the weather is pleasant.HHTL 199.2

    “Aged people also require great purity of air; and strict attention should be paid to the thorough ventilation of their rooms; and so long as they are able to walk or ride abroad, they should, when the weather is not too inclement, daily visit the open air; and when they can no longer do this, their habitations should be more frequently ventilated.HHTL 199.3

    “In regard to the benefit to be derived from a change of climate, there is probably much popular error of opinion. Invalids, trusting too exclusively to the salubriousness of the country or sea air, or of a mild climate, wholly or mostly neglect to attend to their diet and regimen in general, and consequently a large portion of those who travel in pursuit of health either die abroad, or return home little or no better than they went; whereas, if they would avail themselves of the advantages of a correct regimen throughout, as well as of pure air and a mild climate, they would far more generally recover health. As a general rule, therefore, the air and climate of any portion of the United States, under a strictly correct general regimen, are much better for invalids of every description, than any other climate in the world with an entire disregard to regimen.” Graham’s Lectures.HHTL 200.1

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