The father of modern medicine, Paracelsus (1493–1541), made use of carbon dioxide gas
for therapeutic purposes, calling it Spiritus Sylvester. Paracelsus was a pioneering figure in the development of early modern medicine and pharmacology. He believed in using natural substances, including gases, minerals, and plants, for healing and treatment.
One can read a medical book from a doctor curing breast cancer with CO2 from two hundred and twenty-nine years ago. “I was very excited when I came across the work of Dr. John Ewart, a medical doctor and true pioneer who discovered, in 1794, the healing powers of carbon dioxide application on the skin. Two women sought Dr. Ewart’s help, as they had had severe pain and discomfort from open, bleeding ulcers, most likely cancerous, in their breasts for many years. After developing an apparatus that made carbon dioxide by combining limestone with sulphuric acid and delivered the gas to the breast, it gave almost instantaneous relief from the pain every time. Over time, the wound’s size, odor, and discharge of pus were reduced,” wrote Anders Olsson from the Conscious Breathing Institute.
Joseph Priestley observed in 1775 that “a green matter” deposited on the walls of water containers formed bubbles of pure “dephlogisticated air” (oxygen). While Ingen-Housz (in 1779, 1796) discovered the importance of light in this process, it was Senebier in 1782 who demonstrated that the production of oxygen by plants depends on the presence of CO2. Carbon dioxide is, in fact, a more fundamental component of living matter than oxygen.
Dr. Alina Vasiljeva and Dr. David Nias wrote, “At the end of the 19th century, scientists Bohr and Verigo discovered what seemed a strange law: a decreased level of carbon dioxide in the blood leads to decreased oxygen supply to the cells in the body including the brain, heart, kidneys, etc. Carbon dioxide (CO2) was found to be responsible for the bond between oxygen and hemoglobin. If the level of carbon dioxide in the blood is lower than normal, then this leads to difficulties in releasing oxygen from hemoglobin. Hence the Verigo-Bohr law.”
Over the oxygen supply of the body carbon
dioxide spreads its protecting wings.
Swiss physiologist, 1885
Carbon dioxide was studied intensely for the next fifty years after Miescher’s insight. In our journey through the history of CO2 as a medicine, the best place to start is to go back to 1940, to Y. Henderson’s paper on “Carbon Dioxide” in the Encyclopedia of Medicine. He said, “Before considering these matters, it will be best that the mind be cleared of certain deep-rooted misconceptions that have long opposed the truth and impeded its applications. It will be seen that carbon dioxide is truly the breath of life.”
“Under clinical conditions, low oxygen and low carbon dioxide generally occur together. Therapeutic increase of carbon dioxide, by inhalation of this gas diluted in air, is often an effective means of improving the oxygenation of the blood and tissues“, Henderson wrote.
Henderson’s collaborators showed that acapnia, a carbon dioxide deficiency in the blood and tissues, may induce acute heart disturbance and peripheral circulation failure. These conditions resemble the functional depression of shock in patients after prolonged anesthesia and major operations. On the other hand, it was found that if the carbon dioxide content of the body was conserved, the vitality of patients, even under prolonged and extensive operation and trauma, was only a little depressed.
Decrease of carbon dioxide generally
accompanies increased lactic acid.
“The human mind is inherently inclined to take a moralistic view of Nature. Prior to the modern scientific era, which only goes back a generation or two, if indeed it can be said as yet even to have begun in popular thought, nearly every problem was viewed as an alternative between good and evil, righteousness and sin, God and the Devil. This superstitious slant still distorts the conceptions of health and disease; indeed, it is mainly derived from the experience of physical suffering. Lavoisier contributed unintentionally to this conception when he defined the life-supporting character of oxygen and the suffocating power of carbon dioxide,” Henderson said.
“Accordingly, for more than a century after his death, and even now in the field of respiration and related functions, oxygen typifies the Good, and carbon dioxide is still regarded as a spirit of Evil. There could scarcely be a greater misconception of the true biological relations of these gases.”
Anaerobic glycolysis is the increased conversion of
glucose to lactic acid when the supply of oxygen
isn’t insufficient, typical during intense muscle action.
The presence of lactic acid in our tissues is significant, but it is usually treated as only an indicator rather than a cause of biological problems. Its presence in rosacea, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, neurological diseases, and cancer is known. It has recently been recognized that suppressing it can be curative. However, modern medicine is in denial. And after a hundred years, nothing has changed. Instead of heralding the medical healing powers of carbon dioxide, medicine is busily suiciding its integrity by supporting the genetic vaccination of humanity.
Rotureau (“Etudes Sur Les Eaux de Nauheim,” 1856) says: “The carbon dioxide gas baths have been successfully employed, especially in rheumatic affections. The most severe of Rheumatic afflictions are perhaps paralysis; the gas treatment has a powerful effect on this manifestation of rheumatism. Of all forms of paralysis, paraplegia is the quickest to vanish under this treatment and to attain the most complete cure.”
The understanding of the basic chemistry of metabolism culminated in the 1920s in the work of Otto Warburg and Albert Szent-Gyorgyi on respiration. Warburg demonstrated as early as 1920 that a respiratory defect causing aerobic glycolysis, i.e., the production of lactic acid even in the presence of oxygen, was an essential feature of cancer.
“Carbon dioxide is the chief hormone of the entire body; it is the only one that is produced by every tissue and that probably acts on every organ. In the regulation of the functions of the body, carbon dioxide exerts at least three well-defined influences:
(1) It is one of the prime factors in the acid-base balance of the blood.
(2) It is the principal control of respiration.
(3) It exerts an essential tonic influence upon the heart and peripheral circulation.”
Carbon dioxide protects cells in many ways. By bonding to amino groups, it can inhibit the glycation of proteins during oxidative stress and limit the formation of free radicals in the blood; inhibition of xanthine oxidase is one mechanism (Shibata, et al., 1998).
It can reduce inflammation caused by endotoxin/L.P.S., by lowering the formation of tumor necrosis factor, IL-8, and other promoters of inflammation (Shimotakahara, et al., 2008). It protects mitochondria (Lavani, et al., 2007), maintaining (or even increasing) their ability to respire during stress.
“Carbon dioxide is an absolutely essential component of protoplasm. It is one of the factors in the balance of alkali and acid for maintaining the normal pH of the tissues. Despite the increasing carbon dioxide, the pH is kept stable by increased bicarbonate (Boutilier et al., 1979).
Catatonia is a complex neuropsychiatric behavioral syndrome characterized by abnormal movements, immobility, abnormal behaviors, and withdrawal. The onset of catatonia can be acute or subtle, and symptoms can wax, wane, or change during episodes. Over a century ago, Dr. A.S. Lovenhart made extraordinary observations. He found that inhalation of carbon dioxide in cases of catatonia induced a temporary restoration of intelligence and mental responsiveness. The simplest explanation of the results in these cases is a chronic contraction of blood vessels in the brain was reversed. If this view is correct, the beneficial effects of the inhalation of CO2 are due to improved brain circulation under the influence of carbon dioxide upon the finer blood vessels.
In 1920, Henderson, Haggard, and Coburn carried their observations to the clinic and found that when inhalations of carbon dioxide (8%) in the air were administered to patients after major surgical operations under open ether anesthesia, the effects were strikingly beneficial. With the return of deep breathing, cyanosis, then common after anesthesia, disappeared. The cutaneous circulation improved. The skin changed color and temperature from blue-gray and cold to pink and warm.
The pulse volume, previously thready, rapidly became full, and arterial pressure was restored to normal. Owing to the increased breathing volume, the anesthetic (ether) was quickly ventilated out of the blood, and consciousness returned within a few minutes, even after profound anesthesia. Nausea and vomiting were either significantly reduced or absent, and after the inhalation, the patient dropped off to sleep.
In continuation of these observations, White found that when slow hemorrhage occurs after operations on the brain, the rate of breathing gradually decreases until death is imminent. In several such cases, life was saved by stimulation of respiration with inhalation of carbon dioxide.
I’m not sure who uttered these words a century ago. “The use of this inhalation has now become general in connection with anesthesia. Nearly every American anesthetic apparatus now has an attachment for a carbon dioxide cylinder or a mixture of carbon dioxide and oxygen. This means that any failure to breathe on the operating table can be counteracted. At the operation’s close, carbon dioxide inhalation is given to stimulate respiration and induce rapid elimination of a large part of the anesthetic. By this inhalation, vigorous heart action and the tonus of the peripheral circulation are also restored.”
I asked an I.C.U. surgeon friend of mine, if he thought this was true about apparatuses, he said no, we only use carbon dioxide for insufflation (abdominal cavity insufflation on laparoscopic surgery, for example).
Dr. M. Persson and Dr. Van der Linden have demonstrated that carbon dioxide gas protects against tissue damage in the operative field by maintaining humidity and temperature in the open-heart surgery-related model environment. These scientists say carbon dioxide insufflation into the abdominal cavity reduces oxidative stress.
Those 100-odd years ago, it was known that the power of CO2 could unleash a vast improvement in medical treatments made safer. But as we know from medical history, this was when Rockefeller took medicine into the toilet. The last thing that was wanted was something as medically beautiful, safe, and effective as carbon dioxide. For sure, there was no money to be made with CO2. And now we see all these years later CO2 as the enemy of humanity.
Henderson, Haggard, Coryllos, and Birnbaum showed that in dogs in which pneumonia has been experimentally induced, the lungs might be cleared and pneumonia cured by placing the animals in an atmosphere of about 8% carbon dioxide for 12 to 24 hours. In support of the claim that these are cures, pneumococci are inhibited in growth or even killed by a lowering of pH that carbon dioxide may induce.
A lowering of the pH by carbon dioxide also contributes to the autolysis and liquefaction of the exudate responsible for the consolidation of the lungs in pneumonia. In times long past, many cases of pneumonia were treated with inhalation of carbon dioxide in oxygen, and Henderson and Haggard introduced a special tent for this treatment. It is believed by those who have used it that this treatment is decidedly superior to that with oxygen alone.
A century ago, Henderson and his collaborators showed that the heart tends to develop partial tetanus or cramp under certain experimental conditions. This condition may be overcome by employing carbon dioxide. They also showed that, owing to the loss of muscular tonus in animals under prolonged anesthesia and operation, the blood stagnates in the peripheral vessels, the venous return to the right heart decreases progressively, and the circulation finally reaches a standstill.
With these considerations as a physiological background, the influence of carbon dioxide inhalation was tried on several cases of angina pectoris, not as an emergency treatment but as a therapy for prolonged application. It was administered for 10 to 15 minutes, 2 or 3 times daily.