Buteyko Breathing Method Claims Remain Unproven


A breathing method touted as a way to treat a range of conditions, including asthma and sleep apnea, shows promise, but claims about the physiological mechanisms for its effects remain unproven, according to a new study.

The Buteyko Breathing Method is examined in an article in the Summer issue of Biofeedback, published by the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. The Buteyko Method uses breath-control and breath-holding exercises to treat a range of health conditions thought to be related to hyperventilation and low carbon dioxide levels.

"Despite the growing body of literature, guarded endorsement by health and government authorities, and enthusiasm of individuals who have been helped, the Buteyko Method is still not widely accepted by the medical and scientific community," writes Rosalba Courtney in her article "Strengths, Weaknesses, and Possibilities of the Buteyko Breathing Method."

The method, named for Dr. Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, originated in Russia and made its way worldwide in the 1990s. Its main technique is reduced-volume breathing. Buteyko’s explanation was that his method worked by increasing carbon dioxide levels.

People practicing the Buteyko Method develop an increased ability to comfortably hold their breath, a measure known as Control Pause. They say this, in turn, reduces symptoms of asthma and other health conditions and increases carbon dioxide levels. But in her research Courtney found a slight downward correlation between Control Pause length and carbon dioxide levels – opposite Buteyko’s claims.

Several studies have found that the Buteyko Method results in asthmatics being able to reduce asthma medication and experience better control of asthma symptoms. Courtney states that this may be due to altered symptom perception and perhaps reduction of anxiety about asthma symptoms.

Courtney outlines several additional possible explanations for the Buteyko Method effect:

  • Breathing nasally influences nitric oxide levels, which are made in the paranasal sinuses. Nitric oxide is involved in many physiological responses, including bronchodilation.
  • Breathing at low lung volumes, such as with the Buteyko Method, and at high lung volumes, such as with yoga, can have a bronchodilating effect.
  • Breathing at low volumes can reduce the hyperinflation or trapping of air in the lungs, which is common among asthmatics and people with unexplained breathlessness.

Long breath holds enable the body to reabsorb carbon dioxide and help increase the body’s capacity for exercise and exertion, Courtney says. The Buteyko Method and yoga share breath-holding techniques, but Courtney says more studies need to be done on the therapeutic effects of such techniques.

"We cannot explain why the Buteyko Method works and therefore what its real therapeutic potential is," Courtney writes.

To read the complete article, "Strengths, Weaknesses, and Possibilities of the Buteyko Breathing Method," visit www.allenpress.com/pdf/biof-36-02-59-63.pdf. Biofeedback is published four times a year and distributed by the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. The association is an international society for mind-body interactions in research, health care, and education. For more information about the society, see www.aapb.org.

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    In 1871 the Dutch doctor De Costa discovered the “Hyperventilation Syndrome” whereby deep breathing in a relaxed state caused dizziness and sometimes fainting. This is often incorrectly attributed to oxygen saturation. According to the Verigo-Bohr effect, it is the ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen which permits the release or retention of oxygen from the blood.

    At the end of the last century Russian physiologist Verigo and Dutch scientist Bohr independently discovered that without carbon dioxide, oxygen is bound to the haemoglobin of the blood and simply does not work. This consequently leads to oxygen deficiency in the tissues of the brain, heart, kidneys and other organs and a raising of blood pressure.

    Strange as it may seem, oxygen deficiency is not caused by lack of oxygen but by the lack of carbon dioxide! If we breathe too much we get less oxygen.

    Put your money where your mouth is,
    Breathe very deeply for 5-10 minutes and you may experience an asthma attack, blocked nose, dizziness, chest pains, palpitations, coughing and many other symptoms. Reducing the depth of your breathing by breathing shallowly can reverse these symptoms often within a few minutes.

    Da Costa, Jacob Medes (January 1871). “On irritable heart; a clinical study of a form of functional cardiac disorder and its consequences”. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences (61): 18–52.

    B. Werigo, “Zur Frage uber die Wirkung des Sauerstoffs auf die Kohlensaureausscheidung in den Lungen,” [The question about the effect of oxygen on the secretion of carbonic acid in the lungs]. Pflügers Arch. ges. Physiol. (in German), 51 (1892), 321-361.

    Concerning a Biologically Important Relationship – The Influence of the Carbon Dioxide Content of Blood on its Oxygen Binding by Chr. Bohr, K. Hasselbalch, and August Krogh from the Physiology Laboratory of the University of Copenhagen (1904).

    K. P. Buteyko, M. P. Odintsova, N. S. Nasonkina, Ventilation Test in Bronchial Asthma Patients // Vrachebnoe Delo. 1968. N4. K. P. Buteyko, M. P. Odintsova, N. S. Nasonkina, Ventilation Test in Bronchial Asthma Patients // Vrachebnoe Delo. 1968. N4.


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