The Henderson-Hasselbach (H-H) equation, as described in greater detail on the “acid-base balance” page on this site, says that pH in extracellular fluids is regulated by the relationship between the presence of carbon dioxide, PCO2, regulated by breathing, and bicarbonate concentration, [HCO3‾], regulated by the kidneys:
pH = [HCO3‾] ÷ PCO2.
Medical practitioners are interested in the organic factors that disturb the numerator of H-H equation, the bicarbonate concentration. Breathing, the denominator, is considered to be a reflexive chemo-physiological compensatory mechanism that contributes to the restoration of acid-base balance. Integrating behavioral science with the H-H equation, however, means examining behavioral and psychological variables that may disturb the denominator of the equation. Thus, the equation might be rewritten as follows:
acid-base balance (pH) = physiology ÷ behavior (breathing).
It could even be written: acid-base regulation = physiology ÷ psychology, where psychology makes its entry through its effects on breathing behavior. The practical implications are indeed impressive.
In revisiting this equation, it is important to take note that pH not only has a profound effect on behavior, but that behavior has an immense effect on pH. Why isn’t this common knowledge? Why is the content of this website new to most readers? Why aren’t practitioners everywhere implementing this knowledge? The answers are really very simple:
(1) Medical practitioners practice what they’ve learned, and provide services for which they are licensed. They are generally not behavioral scientists, psychologists, counselors, therapists, teachers, consultants, or breathing practitioners. Even with the skills, and the time, traditional healthcare does adequately provide, either financially or philosophically, for patient education services.
(2) Behavioral practitioners have never heard of the H-H equation. Many of them effectively ignore physiology, and consider anything that references physiology as being beyond the scope of their practice and license. Thus, otherwise obvious applications, become hidden and remote, lost in the divisions of cultural thinking.
A good example of the disconnection between medical and behavioral practices is the “overbreathing coaching” that was, for a long time, a part of “natural child birth” assistance, where women “panted” as a behavioral tool for overcoming pain and other kinds of discomfort. The disorientation, loss of focus, dizziness, dissociation, disconnection from self and environment, and a state of semi-consciousness, all due to oxygen and glucose deprivation through overbreathing, contributed to these behavioral objectives. Physiologically, however, not only was the mother suffering from significant oxygen deprivation and its potentially harmful effects, but the infant/fetus as well.
Behavioral Physiology Institute,