Reviewing Respiration as Oxygen Enema Saves Air-Deprived Mammals

oxygen-rich liquid administered rectally can save air-deprived rodents, maybe humans

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Oxygen-rich liquid given anally to air-deprived animals saved their lives. The scientists who conducted the experiment hope to one day administer the oxygen enemas to humans. Respiration is mostly out of our control.

Woman taking deep breathes
In terms of the human body’s respiratory system, it’s not a lack of oxygen that makes a person want to breathe again, but it’s the buildup of carbon dioxide. Photo By fizkes / Shutterstock

In a recent experiment, scientists found that administering enemas of an oxygen-rich solution into lab mice and pigs, when the mammals were deprived of air, saved their lives. They hope to try out the unusual treatment on humans in the future. Ventilators can do the same job, but ventilators can be in short supply. Tragically, the world discovered this the hard way during the coronavirus pandemic.

Breathable air is one of the most immediate and urgent needs that human beings have in order to survive. In his video series Understanding the Human Body: An Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology, Dr. Anthony A. Goodman, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Montana State University, said that our bodies need oxygen so badly, we can’t stop ourselves from getting it.

Respiratory Control

“You cannot hold your breath to [the point of] death,” Dr. Goodman said. “What would happen is, you could hold your breath to unconsciousness—which is very difficult—[and] you would immediately begin breathing again. And the body, oddly enough, has set up a system where it is not the lack of oxygen that makes you want to breathe again; it’s the buildup of the carbon dioxide.”

Clearly, the need for oxygen is strong. Our bodies are alarmed by feelings of suffocation, strangulation, and so on. However, according to Dr. Goodman, the discomfort and alarm we feel in those moments is actually the buildup of carbon dioxide, since we’re not getting rid of it. That, he said, drives the brain’s respiratory center far more effectively than the need for oxygen.

“So, what would be a good way to hold your breath for the longest period of time? Well, deep free divers know just how to do this,” Dr. Goodman said. “It’s not important to take a breath full of 100% oxygen; what they do is they hyperventilate.

“They sit there and breathe as fast and as deep as they can for a minute or two, and what they’re doing is blowing off the CO2—the carbon dioxide—dropping the levels of carbon dioxide, and then they take a big gulp of air and dive down and hold their breath for very long periods of time.”

Suffocation Location

The respiratory system is a group of organs and tissues that work together to oxygenate the body with removing a build up of harmful waste gases. Suffocation can take place in four different locations in the body, Dr. Goodman said. The first is pulmonary suffocation, which is when a closing of the mouth or nose happens at the throat by a foreign body. Whether choking on food or if someone willfully obstructs the nose and mouth, pulmonary suffocation occurs near those openings.

Alveolar suffocation happens when water manages to get into the lungs and into the alveoli, obstructing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that usually occurs during normal respiration.

“You can [also] get tissue suffocation,” Dr. Goodman said. “You can get obstruction of flow from the capillary bed. For example, a blood clot or an embolus […] in the brain, the heart, some vital organ—you have stopped the flow of blood, but more importantly, you have stopped the flow of oxygen.”

Cellular suffocation is the final kind of suffocation. When someone suffers cellular suffocation, something chemical occurs inside their cells, such as with cyanide poisoning. Dr. Goodman said cyanide reacts inside the cells themselves, completely blocking all cellular respiration. The brain then receives an urgent warning to take a deep breath, forcing the victim to inhale more cyanide.

Death occurs in seconds, and no antidote can be given—not even an oxygen enema.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily