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7 Reasons Why You May Suffer From Low Oxygen Levels

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

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Hypoxia can cause problems with the mitochondria and the brain. Read this post to learn why, how to find out, and what to do about it.

Why Does Oxygen Matter?

Mitochondria Oxygen and cAMP

Your mitochondria need oxygen.

Mitochondrial problems are at the heart of all chronic diseases.

When your mitochondria are working well, you will build up healthy levels of ATP and NAD+ levels, which are important for energy utilization and metabolism.

ATP converts to cyclic AMP, which is a critical messenger molecule for so many cellular processes. cAMP is needed for the regulation of glycogen, sugar, and lipid metabolism.

The following hormones also require adequate cAMP levels to function optimally: FSH, LH, ADH (V2=kidneys), TSH, CRH, hCG, ACTH, MSH, PTH, GHRH, Glucagon, and Calcitonin.

Read why NAD+ is important.

Your body fights infections with the superoxide that’s created from oxygen.

Your health and energy will in part depend on how much oxygen you have and how well your mitochondria utilize it.

Now there’s obviously more to the story, but you want to make sure the fundamentals are right.

How To Measure Your Oxygen Levels

Pulse Oximeter and Hypoxia

A pulse oximeter is the easiest method to measure blood oxygen, but it’s only a part of the story.

People think that oxygen levels can be measured simply with a pulse oximeter.

Pulse oximeters measure what percentage of hemoglobin, the protein in blood that carries oxygen, is loaded with oxygen.

It knows this by measuring the number of red vs infrared that gets absorbed in the tissue. Oxygenated hemoglobin absorbs more infrared light and allows more red light to pass through.

However, this doesn’t measure the number of red blood cells and hemoglobin.

It also doesn’t measure how much blood you have in a given area, especially your brain, where you need it most.

You should measure 99-100% on the Pulse Oximeter if you want optimal function.

Your Blood Tests and Hypoxia

Red blood cells carry hemoglobin, which carries oxygen. The more red blood cells you have, the more you can carry oxygen.

Hemoglobin actually carries the oxygen. The more hemoglobin you have, the more oxygen you transport.

Hemoglobin comprises about a third of the total red blood cell volume. This protein is responsible for the transport of more than 98% of the oxygen (the remaining oxygen is carried dissolved in the blood plasma).

Hematocrit is a blood test that measures the percentage of the volume of whole blood that is made up of red blood cells. This measurement depends on the number of red blood cells and the size of red blood cells.

Red blood cells and hemoglobin are all the info you need in your Complete Blood Count to determine your levels of hypoxia.

Low iron or iron stores can also cause less oxygen utilization because oxygen binds to iron-containing molecules (heme) in your hemoglobin. However, your RBC and hemoglobin will often reflect an iron deficiency.

A low RBC or hemoglobin count indicates that your EPO may be low, all of which are extremely important to oxygenate the blood. Hemoglobin holds oxygen and RBCs hold hemoglobin. EPO produces both.

EPO is important for mood and memory independent of its effects on RBCs [1].

Blood Pressure and Hypoxia

You can have good RBCs, hemoglobin, and oxygen saturation, but if your blood isn’t flowing to your brain, it’s meaningless.

Blood pressure is one measure of blood flow. Higher blood pressure can indicate that the blood is more viscous and thick, which will require more force and pressure to move it. It can indicate blood vessels that are hardened and not able to relax easily. It can indicate lower nitric oxide.

Low blood pressure means that blood is not flowing with a certain force level to reach the brain in optimal concentrations.

Your doctor won’t think anything of blood pressure of 90/60, but this means that not enough blood is flowing to the brain for optimal function. Your blood pressure should be 110-120/70-80.

Blood Flow and Hypoxia

If you feel you have cold hands or feet, it can be a symptom that blood isn’t going to your peripheral body areas. It’s also an indicator of low T3 and/or metabolism.

Having a lower EZ in your cells will also negatively affect the pumping of blood throughout your body.

Oxygen Utilization and Hypoxia

Assuming you’ve got everything set up to this point, you still don’t know if you have enough neuronal NOS and endothelial NOS that will diffuse the oxygen from the circulation into the cells.

UV increases nitric oxide and the relaxation of blood vessels [2]. UV increase free endothelial NOS or eNOS (in vessels/capillaries) and total neuronal NOS or nNOS (in neurons) [3, 4] and increases nitric oxide through other means [2], which allows oxygen to diffuse into tissues better.

UV also relaxes your blood vessels by mechanisms that might be independent of NO [5].

nNOS is also important for gut flow and sexual arousal in males and females [6].

Why You May Be Suffering From Hypoxia

There are a few main reasons why you can have lower oxygen.

1) Nasal Problems or Mucus

Do you have a problem breathing through your nose? Perhaps a deviated septum or you’ve constantly got mucous?

It doesn’t matter what’s blocking your nose, but if you’re not breathing easily through your nose, you’ve got a problem that you have to fix.

2) Obstructive Sleep Apnea or Low Oxygen During Sleep

You either have sleep apnea or you don’t. True, but there’s a continuum of how well you breathe while you’re sleeping. You can do a sleep study to see what your oxygen concentrations drop to while you’re sleeping.

3) Living in an Elevated Area

Living in an elevated location like Colorado or Utah can contribute to hypoxia. People who live in elevated locations often have higher RBCs and hemoglobin to make up for lower blood saturation.

4) Chronic Inflammation

Low oxygen can be caused in part by cytokines, which prevent oxygen from reaching the tissues from capillaries.

If you’ve got chronic inflammation, you will have hypoxia to some degree.

5) Psychological Stress

Low oxygen is also caused by a sympathetic or fight or flight system that is in overdrive because this causes more shallow breaths.

Check your number of breaths per minute and cortisol levels. You should have 5-6 breaths per minute.

Blood pressure and heart rate should be normal (115/75 and 55-70).

Heart rate variability should be high, which is an indicator of vagus nerve function.

These are quick and dirty indicators a normal stress response.

6) Lower Blood Pressure and Poor Circulation

Oxygen is transported through the blood and when you have low blood pressure, not enough blood goes to the brain.

Remember, you need force to pump blood against gravity and when you stand gravity is against you. You need good blood flow to get enough blood to the brain to deliver oxygen.

Why is blood pressure reduced in chronic illness? Here’s one reason:

Inflammation and cytokines increase iNOS, which produces large quantities of Nitric Oxide (as opposed to eNOS and nNOS) [6].

iNOS usually occurs when you have high levels of oxidative stress, and thus high levels of NO have the opportunity to react with superoxide leading to peroxynitrite formation and cell toxicity [6].

Very high levels of uncontrolled nitric oxide through increased iNOS decreases smooth muscle contractions by the heart and lead to lower blood pressure [6].

Nitric oxide from iNOS is more systemic rather than localized where you need increased blood, which is how eNOS and nNOS work.

Having a lower EZ in your cells will also negatively affect the pumping of blood throughout your body.

Hypoxia locally in the brain is what contributes to cognitive problems.

7) Lack of Sunlight

As discussed UV is needed to utilize oxygen in the blood.

UV increases nitric oxide and the relaxation of blood vessels [2]. UV increase free endothelial NOS/eNOS (in vessels/capillaries) and total neuronal NOS/nNOS (in neurons) [3, 4] and increases nitric oxide through other means [2], which allows oxygen to diffuse into tissues better.

UV also relaxes your blood vessels by mechanisms that might be independent of NO [5].

My top natural ways to increase EPO are:

  • Interval exercise
  • Breath holding
  • Astragalus [7]
  • Rhodiola/Salidroside [8]
  • Rehmannia/Catalpol [9]
  • Kidney glandular – the kidneys make EPO, so they presumably have it, and given my experiments with it, it wouldn’t be surprising.

How to Increase Oxygen

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About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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