Carbon dioxide triggers inborn distress

Oct 03, 2007

PLoS ONE publishes a study showing that inhalation of carbon dioxide (CO2) triggers emotional distress and a panic response in healthy individuals. The findings of the study posit panic as an inborn survival-oriented response. The results may be relevant for a better understanding and the further prevention of emotional disorders.

It has been known for years that small amounts of carbon dioxide provoke a panic reaction in certain anxiety-prone individuals. This led to the “False Suffocation Alarm theory” which posits that panic attacks and anxiety may derive from the dysfunction of a biological “CO2 sensor”, evolutionarily designed to alert the organism in case of impending death by suffocation. To test whether such a CO2 sensing alarm system does exist, and whether CO2 effectively controls emotional states, the research team of the Academic Anxiety Center at the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands (prof. dr. E. Griez and coworkers) conducted a study in healthy volunteers breathing increasing amounts of CO2.

Sixty-four subjects performed four double inhalations of increasing doses of CO2, from 0% to 35%, and were assessed with self-report questionnaires. The procedure induced a strictly dose-dependent negative emotion, the higher the CO2 concentration, and the stronger the panic. Interestingly, older subjects exhibited a weaker reaction, suggesting that the underlying protective brain alarm may be blunted in the elderly.

These findings have potentially important implications. First, beyond a particular threshold, increased CO2 has an impact on our mental state, yielding negative psychotropic properties. This knowledge may be relevant in the prevention of emotional disorders. It is for instance well known that persons with impaired respiratory functions, as asthma and obstructive pulmonary disorders, are at risk for anxiety and depression. Second, in the future, scientists may use CO2 inhalation in healthy volunteers as a valid experimental model, amongst other in psycho pharmacological research.

Finally the above results posit panic as an inborn response, expressing the struggle for life in case of impending death, for instance when suffocating. The idea that such a negative emotion naturally proceeds from the disruption of a bodily function, underscores once again the close link between physical condition and mental states.

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: Errata frequently seen in medical literature

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study maps 15 years of carbon dioxide emissions on Earth

41 minutes ago

World leaders face multiple barriers in their efforts to reach agreement on greenhouse gas emission policies. And, according to Arizona State University researchers, without globally consistent, independent ...

Mars Curiosity Rover Arrives at Martian Mountain

49 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet's Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission's long-term prime destination.

Researchers discover new producer of crucial vitamin

1 hour ago

(Phys.org) —New research has determined that a single group of micro-organisms may be responsible for much of the world's vitamin B12 production in the oceans, with implications for the global carbon cycle and climate change.

Recommended for you

Errata frequently seen in medical literature

11 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Errata, including those that may materially change the interpretation of data, are frequent in medical publications, according to a study published in the August issue of The American Journal of ...

Seven US-based researchers share $1.3M eyesight prize

Sep 10, 2014

Seven U.S.-based researchers are sharing a €1 million ($1.3 million) prize from a Portuguese foundation for their work developing treatment for angiogenic diseases of the retina, the leading cause of blindness in the developed ...

User comments : 0