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The 7 Causes of Shortness of Breath

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 03/11/2024

Shortness of breath can be attributed to various factors, ranging from chronic conditions to dietary deficiencies.

Not having enough vitamin B1 in the body can lead to difficulty breathing, and pH imbalances such as acidosis and alkalosis contribute to breathing problems.

Learn about the crucial role of zinc for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) risk factors and essential antioxidants like vitamins C & E for managing COPD effectively.

Vitamin B1 Deficiency and Shortness of Breath

A lack of vitamin B1 can leave you gasping for air.

Vitamin B1 deficiency can affect your vascular and nervous systems, leading to shortness of breath.

Refined carbs and sugars are notorious for causing this deficiency, making it difficult for your heart to pump blood effectively.

Refined carbs and sugars: the culprits behind vitamin B1 deficiency

White bread, pasta, and sugary foods are typically low in nutrients, and overindulging in these foods can deplete essential nutrients like vitamin B1 (thiamine), which is vital for maintaining proper cardiovascular function.

Without enough thiamine, your body struggles to produce energy from glucose, leading to poor heart performance and shortness of breath.

The role of lactic acidosis in causing shortness of breath

Lactic acidosis is when lactic acid accumulates in the body due to inadequate oxygen supply during physical activity or certain medical conditions. If left untreated, this buildup can cause muscle weakness, fatigue, rapid breathing, and even shortness of breath.

Vitamin B1 helps convert lactic acid into usable energy by supporting cellular respiration processes, making it a crucial nutrient for preventing shortness of breath. To avoid vitamin B1 deficiency-related shortness-of-breath issues, it's crucial to avoid carbohydrates and sugars and opt for healthy fats instead.

If you suspect a deficiency despite maintaining a proper diet, consider taking a high-quality vitamin B1 supplement to ensure adequate intake.

Before taking any vitamin B1 supplement, speaking with a healthcare provider is essential.

Acidosis, Alkalosis, and Breathing Problems

Imbalances in your body's pH levels can affect your breathing.

If you're too acidic (acidosis) or too alkaline (alkalosis), you may experience labored deep breathing or air hunger.

High cortisol levels from stress or potassium deficiencies are some factors that could cause these imbalances.

Symptoms of Acidosis and Alkalosis

When the body experiences acid-base imbalances, it can manifest through various symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, headache, muscle weakness, tremors, and an irregular heartbeat.

In severe cases, a person might even lose consciousness.

Managing pH Imbalances through Diet Adjustments

A proper diet is essential to maintain your body's pH levels. Consuming foods rich in minerals like magnesium and potassium helps to neutralize excess acidity caused by consuming processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugars.

Foods like kale, spinach, avocados, cucumbers, pumpkin seeds, and almonds are excellent sources of these essential minerals.

  • Eating more green leafy vegetables such as kale, Swiss Chard, and spinach to balance your body's pH levels.

  • Processed foods, refined sugars, and excessive caffeine should be avoided to maintain a balanced acid-base equilibrium in the body.

  • Including apple cider vinegar in your diet to help neutralize excess acidity and support overall health.

While diet is an important factor in managing pH levels, it is important to remember that stress also plays a big role. It is essential to manage stress effectively to prevent breathing problems caused by imbalances in your body's pH levels.

Relaxation techniques like deep breathing can help reduce cortisol levels and promote better respiratory function.

Low Calcium Levels Impacting Breathing

Low calcium levels in the blood can make it hard to breathe. Ensure you are getting enough calcium from your diet or supplements to keep your respiratory system working properly.

This section will discuss what causes low calcium levels and which foods can help you breathe easier.

Causes of Low Calcium Levels

You might have low calcium levels for many reasons, including a poor diet, insufficient vitamin D, certain medications, kidney problems, and issues with your parathyroid gland.

Symptoms of low calcium levels can include muscle cramps, numbness, seizures, and even shortness of breath due to spasms in your airways.

If you believe your breathing is being affected by low calcium levels, it's best to consult a healthcare professional for tests and supplement recommendations. They can recommend tests to see if you need to take supplements.

Foods Rich in Calcium for Better Breathing

You must eat calcium-rich foods to keep your respiratory system healthy and avoid shortness of breath. Here are some great sources:

  • Full-fat dairy products: milk (cow's milk or fortified plant-based alternatives), cheese (especially hard cheeses like cheddar), yogurt (with live cultures and no sugar);

  • Fish: sardines (with bones) and wild-caught salmon

  • Nuts & seeds: almonds, sesame seeds

  • Leafy green vegetables: kale, collard greens, bok choy

Asthma - A Common Cause of Breathing Difficulties

Asthma causes breathing difficulties due to inflammation in the airways. Adequate vitamin D intake is crucial for managing symptoms.

Let's discuss common triggers for asthma and the importance of vitamin D for asthmatics.

Understanding Asthma Triggers

Asthma attacks can be initiated by substances that cause allergies, irritants, infections, cold air, physical activity, and psychological pressure.

Identify your triggers to manage asthma effectively.

Tips to avoid triggers:

  • Clean the living environment by vacuuming and using allergy-proof covers on bedding.

  • Avoid cigarette smoke and other irritants.

  • Exercise indoors during colder months or high-pollen seasons.

  • Incorporate relaxation techniques to minimize stress-related flare-ups.

Dietary sources of vitamin D

Importance of Vitamin D for Asthmatics

Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of developing asthma and worsening symptoms. This vitamin regulates immune function and reduces inflammation, both crucial for controlling asthma.

To ensure adequate vitamin D levels:

  1. Consume foods containing vitamin D, such as fatty fish, dairy products with added vitamins, and egg yolks to maintain adequate nutrient levels.

  2. Expose skin to sunlight for 10-15 minutes daily without sunscreen.

  3. Consider taking a vitamin D supplement if unable to meet the recommended intake through diet and sunlight. Consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplementation regimen.

Pneumonia - Infections Leading To Respiratory Distress

Pneumonia can make breathing difficult due to a severe infection that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Identifying pneumonia symptoms

How do you know if you have pneumonia?

Common signs include coughing up phlegm, fever and chills, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and weakness.

If any of these symptoms are present, it is essential to seek medical attention for accurate diagnosis and treatment, as many environmental factors, such as toxic mold, can cause some of these symptoms.

Role of zinc in immune system support

Zinc is essential for a healthy immune system as it can help to fight infections like pneumonia more effectively by promoting white blood cell production, regulating inflammation response, and maintaining skin integrity as a barrier against pathogens.

Some excellent sources of dietary zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

If dietary sources of zinc are insufficient, supplementing with it is an option - but be sure to follow dosage instructions carefully to avoid any adverse effects.

COPD - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a long-term lung condition characterized by inflammation and airway obstructions, making breathing hard.

Understanding the Risk Factors Associated with COPD

Several factors contribute to the development of COPD, including smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, occupational hazards such as dust or chemical fumes, and genetic predisposition.

Quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to harmful substances can significantly reduce your risk of developing this debilitating condition.

The Importance of Antioxidants Like Vitamins C and E for Managing COPD

Vitamins C and E are potent antioxidants that play a crucial role in reducing inflammation within the lungs while inhibiting fibrosis - an abnormal thickening or scarring process in lung tissue.

These essential nutrients support healthy respiratory function and protect against oxidative stress caused by environmental pollutants or other irritants.

  • Vitamin C: Found in bell peppers, broccoli, and leafy greens like spinach and tomatoes, it helps maintain collagen levels required for healthy lung tissues. Moreover, vitamin C also supports the immune system, which is crucial for individuals with COPD.

  • Vitamin E: This fat-soluble antioxidant can be found in nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), seeds (sunflower seeds), olive oil, and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin E helps protect lung cells from damage caused by free radicals and may improve respiratory function in people with COPD.


Various factors, including vitamin B1 deficiency, imbalances in acidosis and alkalosis, low calcium levels, asthma triggers, pneumonia infections, and COPD, can cause shortness of breath.

A diet rich in nutrients like vitamins C and E, zinc, and calcium can help manage respiratory distress while reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

It's essential to seek medical attention if you experience persistent shortness of breath, as it could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.

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