The Buteyko Breathing Technique Won’t Cure Your Asthma!

HM writes: “Ihave been reading the articles about alternative medicine and want to make sure of something. . . .(R)ecently I have been learning BUTEYKO breathing for relief from Asthma and I am being taught by an Asthma nurse who suffered with it herself and got cured. The Australian Asthma website teaches it and some of the doctors in the UK teach it. To be honest I think it is a reliable method and not New age, certainly the practicioner is a conventional practitioner and you are told at all times to keep your medication with you but the aim is to reduce and sometimes stop taking medication which is not a bad thing. Recently I had prayers for having done TM and Yoga and would hate to think that this is anything like that. . . . Can you advise?”

Konstantin Buteyko

The Buteyko breathing technique (BBT) is not New Age but many of its practitioners are and you should be aware that it’s founder was a dabbler in the occult. I would also like to point out that BBT has not been found to do any more than offer a slight improvement in the symptoms of asthma sufferers so don’t give up that inhaler!

For those who are not familiar with this breathing technique, it is based on the concept that undiagnosed hyperventilation is the underlying cause of many medical conditions, including asthma, because it can lead to low carbon dioxide levels in the blood. The Buteyko method focuses on nasal breathing and incorporates breath control exercises that help a person reduce their breathing and breath volume rate. It also uses CPAP machines, which are used to treat sleep apnea, or jaw-strap or tape to keep the mouth closed during the night in order to facilitate nasal breathing.

According to this excellent expose of BBT written by Joseph Albietz of Science Based Medicine,  the inventor of this technique was a Russian man named Konstantin Buteyko. Born in 1923 in the Ukraine, he served in the Soviet military on the Eastern Front and became fascinated by the injuries he witnessed.  After the war ended he joined the First Medical Institute in Moscow and began his medical training.

While still in his 20’s, he was diagnosed with “a severe and lethal form” of hypertension and was given just months to live. One night in 1952, he was standing alone and staring at the sky, wondering about his illness, and was dazzled by a bright light and lowered his gaze to shield his eyes. He suddenly noticed that his chest and belly were moving a great deal as he was breathing. A sudden revelation made him suspect that the heavy breathing was not a symptom, but the cause of his problems. He intentionally slowed his breathing and felt immediately better. BBT came from this experience.

Some speculate that Buteyko was having a panic attack at the time, a condition that is known to be relieved by slow controlled breathing. However, he believed he was on to something big and began to treat patients with the new method.

What follows in this personal account found on the Buteyko Breathing Center website is a recounting of decades of persecution, physical intimidation, destruction of his laboratory, and all kinds of professional sabotage due to the promulgation of his discovery. During this time, Buteyko still managed to treat patients and supposedly discovered that BBT could cure 150 different diseases and disorders, although there are no published studies evaluating BBT for any of them. In 1987, he obtained a “top secret” patent on BBT from the Soviet government and established the Buteyko clinic.

Here’s where Buteyko’s background becomes alarming.

“In the final period of his life, Buteyko came to the conclusion that a reduction of breathing leads to clarity of mind, inner peace, and calmness. Additionally, he found out that it promotes intuition, telepathy and other types of extrasensory perception. Konstantin started his career as a talented, yet regular medical doctor, but, by the end of his life, he developed qualities of an advanced spiritual practitioner. He was known for being able to read people’s thoughts, predicting the future, and many other extraordinary abilities. He hardly slept at all, was able to exist without food for 50 days at a time, and was capable of holding his breath after an exhalation for several minutes.”

Albeitz’s articles goes into great detail about the science of BBT and is worth reading in its entirety.

BBT suffers from the same problem as other alternatives in that there is simply no scientific evidence to support the claims made. A 2009 article in The New York Times, which was written by an author whose friend was helped by BBT, cited plenty of research, all of which have important caveats that were not explained to the reader.

For instance, the British study cited in the article was not peer-reviewed and was only an abstract at the 2003 British Thoracic Society Winter Meeting. In spite of its remarkable results, the study has never been published which, according to the scientific community, makes it a “non study.”

Albietz’s research uncovered 21 studies of BBT at PubMed, but of the three studies designed to test Buteyko’s proposed mechanisms of action, none of them supported Buteyko’s theories.

Five other studies comparing BBT to a control for the treatment of asthma show nothing more than a slight reduction in the use of maintenance drugs. The only consistent finding in the studies was the lack of any change in the participant’s pulmonary function.

“Given the most charitable interpretation and taken at face value, these studies imply that BBT can alter a patient’s perception of their symptoms, and perhaps prevent overuse of asthma medications,”  Albeitz writes.  “However, they also provide evidence that BBT does very little to alter the underlying pathophysiology of asthma, and absolutely no evidence to support Buteyko’s claim that BBT can cure asthma.”

For those who hope BBT will cure their asthma, Albietz advises: “I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

When perusing the websites of BBT practitioners, I did notice that many of them are also into Chinese medicine, yoga, neuro-linguistic programming and other New Age practices. People who are seeking this treatment need to exercise caution and should thoroughly research whoever they are intending to visit for BBT therapy (Rely only upon independent reviews of a practitioner, never material supplied by the practitioner.)   

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5 Response to “The Buteyko Breathing Technique Won’t Cure Your Asthma!

  1. I find these comments about Dr Buteyko’s interest in the occult to be laughable. There is no proof at all that he said he could read minds. However, it is true that when people’s breathing is improved, it can lead to greater clarity of mind and ability to be present. There are several medical trials that have shown that Buteyko is extremely effective with asthma in particular with consistent results of 50 – 100% reduction in reliever medications and 20 – 50% reduction in preventer medications based on a huge decrease in symptoms.

  2. I found myself compelled to respond to your article on the effectiveness of the Buteyko Method for those with asthma. I was an asthmatic for 45 years, used a reliever inhaler 4-6 times a day and inhaled steroids twice a day. While living in Europe, I heard about the Buteyko Method and must admit I was very skeptical at first. How could my asthma be cured? Impossible I said and so did my doctor. I eventually attended a Buteyko clinic in Ireland and learned the method. Within a week, I was off my reliever medication and in six months I was off my inhaled steroids. I’ve been asthma and medication free for over seven years. I recently retired as an executive with a large American technology company and decided to become a Buteyko practitioner. I wanted to help others like I was helped. Since then, I’ve helped and am helping asthmatics who are seeing their asthma symptoms disappear like mine did. And like most Buteyko practitioners, I offer a 100% money back guarantee if the symptoms are not relieved. I’ve not had to give a penny back yet. Finally, there have been six clinical studies conducted in Australia, New Zealand, The UK and Canada that show on average, a 92% reduction in reliever medication use and a 49% reduction of inhaled steroids use. Oh, and as a practitioner, I’m not into all those New Age things. I’ve never even attended a yoga class. I hope you will revisit the Buteyko Method and see how effective it is for asthmatics. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss this further.

  3. The Buteyko method does work for asthma, IF you do the exercises and as a nutritional therapist, change your diet by not eating so much processed sugars such as pasta and othe white flour pre made foods. As you may know, the inhaler causes much long term damage to the lungs where the Buteyko breathing heals the lungs. How can you dispute breathing through the nose which God made it for! And as George Catlin said many many years ago, “the nose was not made for eating bread anymore than the mouth was made for breathing”. There are more reactions that heal than I can name here when nose breathing. Inflammation and more with mouth breathing. There are some of us Jesus freaks out here who believe some of these old guys who research truthfully unlike some today. It is not antichrist it does help people and scripture can be a part of that if you believe.

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