Q and A article, May 1996

author and source unknown

Lately, the National Asthma Campaign has put out a statement on the [Buteyko] method strongly advising people with asthma "not to pay several hundred pounds to be taught a method of treatment which is of unproven benefit"(unlike steroids and bronchodilators. of course, the 'correct' treatment, says the NAC -- No doubt of great proven benefit and safety!)

Konstantin Buteyko, born near Kiev in Russia, who spent many hours studying the breathing of patients with diseases, theorised that certain diseases develop because the patients are hyperventilating, which lowers carbon dioxide levels in the body. His theory is that low levels of carbon dioxide cause blood vessels to spasm and then starve the tissues of oxygen. The body then produces certain defence mechanisms to cope with the problem.

This was particularly true of patients with asthma, he believed. He then developed a method to help recondition patients to breathe in a more shallow fashion, and a method of quickly measuring a patients breathing. The method entails a series of continuous shallow nasal breathing exercises interspersed with breath-holding exercises, to stabilise the patients to breathe normally.

Although there are very few published scientific studies outside of Buteyko's own trials, the data that does exist is encouraging. One study pointed to several studies linking asthma with hyperventilation, particularly in patients frightened of sustaining another attack (Br J Psychiatry, 1988;153:687-8).

In Buteyko's own studies on children with asthma, after 4 days of treatment, which took about 10 minutes to learn, 73% cut down on their medication (although steroids had to be withdrawn gradually). Patients were allowed to take their medication if they were unable to stop an attack after 10-15 minutes using the technique. But even in these case, medication dosage was reduced by half to two thirds. After 84 days, 82.7% of children were recorded as considerably improved.

In one other workshop of 35 patients held in Australia, after four and a half months 27 of the 31 recorded fewer symptom frequency. 15 of 31 were able to overcome most attacks (7, all attacks), 5 of 6 were able to totally reduce use of nebulised bronchodilators; 12 of 27 were able to totally reduce aerosol bronchodilators; and 14 of 25 were able to reduce their steroid use. 23 of the 35 felt the method was superior to conventional medical treatment of asthma (Med J Austr, 1995; 162:53)

Although the treatment does require more objective evaluation, it may be worth trying so long as the allergy route hasn't worked and you have an experienced, responsible practitioner who won't suddenly stop steroids or remove all drugs if you need them as a temporary crutch.

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