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:
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?
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:
To look for improvements in lung function as an indicator of Buteyko therapy's effectiveness, you would have to reduce the medication of the control group to the same extent as that of the Buteyko group before comparing them. Of course you can't do that because you would, in all likelihood, kill 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: