Respiratory system-Health Geeku

The Human Respiratory System

Give it R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

The human respiratory system is intimately and inseparably married to the Cardiovascular System. So complex, yet so simple. Breathe in, breathe out, and go about your day. What happens in between those breaths is life.

The Italian journalist and novelist, Giovanni Papini wrote that “breathing is the greatest pleasure in life”. Not to be outdone, Oprah said, “Breathe. Let go.

And cue yourself that this terrible moment is that the only 1 you recognize you’ve got needless to say.”

These two people certainly know the importance of “taking a breather”. I doubt that anyone would dispute that breathing matters and our respiratory system makes it happen.

What the Human Respiratory System Does

In the big picture, the human respiratory system does three things.  It takes in oxygen, collects it in the pulmonary veins, carries it to the heart where it gets transported to our cells.

How much air are we talking about?  If we think of the lungs as a couple of hollow balloons (which they’re not), they would inflate at about six quarts of air a minute.  That would be about 10 million balloons in an average lifetime.

Second, it receives oxygen-depleted blood from the heart via the pulmonary arteries and expels carbon dioxide waste from cellular metabolism.

Third, the human respiratory system regulates the acid-base balance of the body, known as the pH balance.  On a scale of 0 (strongly acidic)to 14 (strongly basic or alkaline), the brain and lungs work together to maintain the blood at a slightly acidic 7.40. It’s a tightly controlled balance since even a slight deviation from normal can severely affect many organs.

Since carbon dioxide is a slightly acidic waste product and as with all waste products, it gets excreted to the blood.  Briefly, the brain senses when the carbon dioxide rises in the blood and kicks in to regulate it by instructing the lungs to breathe deeper and faster.  Talk about great teamwork!

Also Read:

The Respiratory System, Some Assembly Required.

The Human Respiratory System

Like the air-conditioning ductwork in our homes, our body has a related conduction network. The intake is the mouth and throat where the air is delivered to the larynx, where it gets moisturized; like our home humidifier.

The nose is an interconnected part of the input where the air is also commuted to the larynx while performing a moisturizing purpose, but also warming and cleaning the incoming air. Ever see out how much dust and dirt is removed from our homes by the air conditioning filter? When’s the last time you replaced yours?

By the way, the larynx is also known as the voice box.

Deeper into the human respiratory system

Going deeper into the human respiratory system, we pass the voice box and hit the trachea, made of piled rings of cartilage. The trachea splits into two branches called bronchi or bronchial tubes that carry air straight to the right and left lungs.

Entering the lungs, we will meet three lobes: the upper, middle and lower. But wait for a second, we’re missing a middle lobe in the left lung. What’s going on? If we could open up our chest and take a look, we would see that our heart isn’t right in the middle where most people think it is.

Heart And Lung

The heart is more on the left side and since a heart and left lung can’t occupy the same space, the creator saw fit to make the left lung with only 2 lobes to make space for the heart. Pretty good planning!

While we are looking at our open chest, we would also notice that the lobes are separated by fissures, like tiny San Andreas fault lines.

Going still deeper into the human respiratory system, we see that the pulmonary veins and arteries divide and divide and divide and keep dividing into a fine mesh of capillaries, 5-10 um (micron) in diameter; for example, a human hair averages 100 um in diameter.

This network of capillaries reaches out to about 480 million alveoli. Alveoli are the final branching of the respiratory tree and are the primary gas transfer units of the lung.

Flattened out, they would cover between 70 and 90 square meters. Each alveolus is covered in a net of capillaries.

An Interesting Thing in The Human Respiratory System

About the human respiratory system is that it’s the small things that matter.  The nose, throat, and larynx will take care of the big dust, dirt, pollen and other sizeable pollutants and the millions of cilia (small hairs) in the lungs will sweep out the smaller particles that make it past the larynx.

The really tiny particles that get down into the lungs can cause an inflammatory reaction that destroys part of the lung.  Nanotechnology may prove to be a severe threat to our respiratory system due to the extremely small size of waste particles.

What Can Go Wrong In Human Respiratory System?

Malfunctions occur and stuff happens but when it happens to our lungs or any part of our respiratory system, it’s more than just an irritant.  The results can range from discomfort to death.

Bad Lifestyle Choices

Many of these issues arise over time as a result of bad lifestyle choices.  There’s no surprise that smoking is at the top of the list.  Remember all those little capillaries and alveoli?   In our respiratory system, that’s where the rubber meets the road, or should I say where the actual exchange of gasses takes place.

Wonder what all those cigarettes, cigars and second-hand smoke do to that machinery?

Healthy Pink Lung Tissue

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so below is an autopsy photo of a lung section from a heavy smoker.  Not very pretty; even worse to die from.  On the right is a photo of healthy lung tissue, which would you rather have?

The Big “LC” Lung Cancer.

Lung cancer, like all cancers, is a disease of uncontrolled cell growth.  It’s called lung cancer because it occurs in lung tissue.  Cancer is generally defined by where it originates in the body.

As with most cancers, this uncontrolled cell growth may lead to metastasis.

This is where the killer army of mutated cancer cells leaves its home base, lungs in this case, and invades new territory; it could be very far from the lungs depending on where it rides the bloodstream.


Very interesting; a pathologist might look at cells from a cancerous liver and say, “I see lung cancer”. That would be because cancer started in the lungs and retained its identity. Lung cancer is the most typical explanation for cancer-related death in men and therefore the second most typical in girls.

Care and Feeding of Your Respiratory System.

Here’s a really simple test to see if your respiratory system is healthy.  If you can run up two flights of stairs or walk six blocks without having to stop and rest and without experiencing shortness of breath, chances are, your lungs are in decent shape.

You did it?  Great, now let’s see how we can keep our respiratory system in tip-top shape.

It might be helpful to take it in steps, so…

Step 1: is to control your environment to the extent that you can.

We can’t do much about the work environment but home is definitely under our control.  Most of it is just common sense.  Keep the house clean and dust-free.  If you have carpets, vacuum frequently.

Change the furnace filter regularly; a clogged filter does more harm than good.

Room air filters are good if they are well maintained but there are competing technologies as well as superior and not-so-great brands within the same technology

Personally I prefer the HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) technology for portable room air purifiers in that they can remove over 99% of particulates of .3 microns and larger.

We have been running the Enviracaire HEPA units from Honeywell in our home and have been pleased with their performance. In addition, we have just installed a whole-house AccuClean system from American Standard.

We also had three Oreck XL Professional Air Purifiers that we are eventually unplugged and quit using.  They are noisy unless you run them on silent mode but don’t seem to work very well in silent mode.  Also, they have an ionizer switch that generates ozone to give the room a pleasant fresh smell.  Keep reading.

Step 2 is to avoid inhaled toxins.

Carbon monoxide, radon gas, mold, fumes from dry cleaning, fumes from many household cleansers and the like can do real damage to deep lung tissue.

Many states real estate statutes require a radon gas statement before home with a basement can be sold. Avoiding these types of pollutants can have the effect of adding three years to your life. 

Since modern homes are now so tightly sealed, it is not unusual to find the indoor air much more polluted than the outdoor air.  As weather permits, it’s a good idea to open the windows and air out the house from time-to-time.

One More Thing. 

Since its fall as I write this and the leaves are on the ground. If you are like me and mulch the leaves with your mower, wear one of those gauze masks while doing the mulching.  There are lots of

molds on those leaves that we shouldn’t be breathing and that mower kick up an unhealthy amount of microparticles from the soil that also shouldn’t be getting in our lungs.

Step 3 Is To Take Supplements

A good respiratory system supplementation will include 400mg/day of magnesium.  This is an essential mineral that relaxes the bronchial tubes and can help with asthma.

If you have an excessive mucus problem, coughing up lots of mucus from the lungs as opposed to sinus mucus, take about 600 mg twice a day of N-acetylcysteine (NAC).  This works to loosen the mucus and boost glutathione production.

Glutathione is an antioxidant and protects cells, including lung tissue, from free radicals formed by the toxins mentioned previously.

While not exactly a supplement, drinking coffee can stabilize and contract the lining of the airways, thus making breathing easier.  It’s not the coffee that does it but the caffeine.  Don’t drink coffee? How about some nice dark chocolate?

Step 4 Is To Learn Deep Breathing.

For starters, practice taking deep, full breaths; five seconds in, seven seconds out.  If you were to enroll in yoga class, one of the first things they would teach you is how to breathe.

What’s the benefit?  One major benefit is that deep breathing helps move nitric oxide to the lungs.  Nitric oxide comes from the nasal passages and is a very effective lung and blood vessel dilator.  What this means to your respiratory system is that the lungs work better and can give 100% oxygen saturation.

Other benefits include better drainage of the lymphatic system which removes toxins from the body as well as helps with stress relief.  Ever heard the old advice to take a deep breath when you get mad or all tensed up.  There’s a good reason to do just that, in fact, take ten deep breaths.

Breathe well and live long.

And do we have to say it again?  DON’T SMOKE!  If you must smoke do it outdoors, at least your only killing yourself and not your loved ones.  Second-hand smoke kills too.  The Human respiratory system will rebel at this type of disrespect.