The Buteyko Breathing Method has been shown to relieve and prevent asthma symptoms in several clinical trials. There is also substantial anecdotal evidence (to support the widespread use of this method for managing asthma) from the thousands of people who have used Buteyko around the world and who now no longer suffer from asthma symptoms. How does the Buteyko Breathing Method relieve asthma?
The breathing volume of people with asthma has been well studied, and as a group, people with asthma have been found to have elevated breathing volumes. That is, they breathe too much, the clinical term for which is chronic hyperventilation.
In 1968 a study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine which showed that all of the asthma patients (101) that were studied had chronic hyperventilation (over-breathing), with an average breathing volume of 15 liters of air per minute. This is three times what is considered to be a normal breathing volume which is 3-5 liters of air per minute, at rest.
In 1995, a study was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (Johnson et al, 1995) which confirmed these earlier findings (a breathing volume of approximately 15 liters per minute) for another group of people with asthma.
In 1998, the Australian Medical Journal (Bowler et al, 1998), reported a study which found an average breathing volume of 14 liters per minute in 39 people with asthma.
Why should it matter that people with asthma have chronic hyperventilation?
When we over-breathe we blow off too much carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 has many important functions within the body and we need to retain a certain amount of it in order to function well.
Carbon dioxide deficiency results in excitation of the cholinergic nerve. This nerve is responsible for the tone of the smooth muscle within the body. Our airways are lined with smooth muscle and when the cholinergic nerve is stimulated it causes smooth muscle (airways, bladder, blood vessels, for example) to constrict.
It is well-substantiated that hyperventilation results in airway constriction. Thankfully, the opposite mechanism also applies – hypoventilation, or reducing the breathing volume, retains CO2, and this in turn causes dilation, or widening, of the airways and other vessels that are lined with smooth muscle.
Professor Konstantin Buteyko investigated the link between hyperventilation and asthma in the 1950’s. He noticed that when he instructed his patients with asthma to breathe less, they gained relief from their asthma symptoms.
At least part of this hypoventilation-asthma relief effect is thought to be due to the relaxing of the airways via the mechanism just discussed. But, there are probably other factors that come into play.
Hyperventilation is part of the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response. When we breathe heavy all the time the immune system becomes very sensitive to intruders (it is on high-alert) and so when allergens or specific triggers are inhaled or ingested by people with asthma, the immune system goes into over-drive to deal with them. It generates an inflammatory response which is very familiar to those who suffer with asthma – mucus production, cough, wheeze, anxiety, panic.
The Buteyko Breathing Method relieves asthma by reversing chronic hyperventilation. If someone with asthma can bring their breathing volume down to normal levels on a permanent basis then asthma symptoms may no longer be triggered and medication may not be required (although any decision to alter any medication must always occur in consultation with a medical practitioner).
This is how the Buteyko Breathing Method relieves asthma symptoms.It can be learned with the help of a well-trained and experienced Buteyko educator. Results should be noticed within only a few days although it usually takes a few months of daily practice for permanent asthma relief to occur.