Why the Medical Profession Is Not Interested In Buteyko's Theory

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to their colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives"


We have been asked repeatedly why, if Buteyko's theory is right, has it not been incorporated into modern medicine. Unfortunately it is not possible to address this question candidly without exposing some raw nerves.

Buteyko's theory is way ahead of the classical model in explaining asthma. It is based on solid, basic physiology. The asthma enigmas that have confounded the medical profession until now can readily be explained with the Buteyko model. It also agrees with clinical observations. And if the treatment which is generated by the theory is followed, then patients actually recover from their asthma.

The Buteyko method is an orthodox treatment for asthma that involves recognition of an abnormal breathing pattern (over- breathing and low Carbon Dioxide) and treats it safely and effectively with breathing exercises that restore normal breathing.

Those of us who have witnessed or experienced the dramatic and rapid turnabout in asthma once Buteyko treatment is started are converted from sceptics into disciples. Others are moved to becoming apostles and actually teach the technique.

In spite of this there has been much hostility from the medical community. With 1 in 14 doctors having asthma, one wonders why these individuals won't look at the theory and play with the treatment themselves. It costs nothing and has no side effects apart from leaving you with a general feeling of well-being.


We have naturally been keen to spread our good news to our family doctors and others. Here are some typical reactions:

  1. "That sounds absurd."

  2. "Asthma is caused by allergy and not hyperventilation."

  3. "Sounds interesting but I haven't had time to study it."

  4. "Different things work for different people. If it works for you, stick with it."

  5. "I'm happy for your son that he's so much improved, but this sort of anecdotal evidence means nothing."

  6. "Why is there no mention of this work in recognised medical journals?"

    Reputable Medical Journals don't like publishing controversial material, probably for fear of harming their reputation.

    It should be noted that Buteyko had a 30 year struggle getting his technique approved in Russia (see the HISTORY OF BUTEYKO]). It was only through grateful patients that he eventually succeeded. Is it any wonder he turned away from trying to impress his colleagues and concentrated instead on saving lives?

  7. During a heated public exchange with me, one doctor even resorted to presenting deliberately misleading information in an attempt to discredit the theory.

But perhaps the most illuminating reply came from our Asthma Foundation. In a written communication to me, the recent clinical trials in Queensland were referred to. To their credit, the Australian Asthma Foundations actually spent A$37,000 in funding the 12 week trial. To their further credit they also acknowledged that "most of the people who practiced the Buteyko Technique reported using much less medication and feeling better than those in the control group".

If it had been a drug that had delivered these results, it would have been shot past the FDA for approval immediately. Drugs are approved whether one knows how they work or not. But because it's Buteyko.....

Objection to the Buteyko treatment hinged on the following observations:

  1. Improvements in lung function between the control group and the Buteyko group had to be verified. This was not established in the tests.

    We observe:

  2. It was not possible to show that there was more Carbon Dioxide in the lungs of the Buteyko group than in the lungs of the control group.

These are the two issues that are being presented as sufficient grounds not to endorse the Buteyko treatment. However, the Asthma Foundation was also prepared to point out that they were not in a position to "disendorse" the treatment.

So why is there this reluctance on the part of doctors to examine the Buteyko theory seriously?

In the foreword to the Hamlyn History of Medicine [ISBN 0 600 58988 9], Roberto Margotta writes:

"Despite the achievements of the last century, orthodox medical practice, unlike the scientific disciplines on which it is founded, remains by and large a matter of observation, opinion and experience. A knowledge of the wrong turnings of the past is essential if the doctor of today is not to be arrogant in his overestimation of his powers."

Roberto may have touched on a raw nerve here. Maybe there is still a little too much of that arrogance around. Maybe the lessons of history have been forgotten.

In order to understand this inertia we might consider what would be at stake were Buteyko to be recognised as being correct:

  1. Up until recently the medical profession has had total control over asthma management. With the advent of Buteyko therapy, patients are able to manage their own illness. The medical profession would lose control of an important corner of the health care industry.

  2. Asthma text books become obsolete. Decades of research have left us with nothing but a jumbled collection of obsolete hypotheses that never did quite manage to explain asthma.

  3. The medical profession's credibility and respect is at stake. How is it possible that after decades of research and clinical experience, no one has noticed that the asthmatics just breathe too much?

  4. A huge section of the pharmaceutical industry relies on asthma being an incurable disease.

  5. And finally, doctors don't like sticking their necks out by swimming against the tide. You only have to read The History of Buteyko: The Man and His Discovery to have some understanding for this attitude.

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