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Buteyko Breathing Technique

March 26, 2012 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

In previous columns, I’ve described the health benefits of various forms of deep breathing in diseases ranging from asthma to GERD (gastroesophageal reflux). But, there’s another, vastly different school of thought in the world of breath retraining. The Buteyko Breathing Technique (BBT) contrasts from practices such as diaphragmatic and Senobi breathing in that it actually recommends reducing depth and frequency of breath in order to assist asthmatics to better control their symptoms.

According to Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, the developer of BBT, hyperventilation and hypocapnia (low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood) are two of the primary mechanisms involved in asthma. His theory affirms that breath holding, preventing mouth breathing at night and slowing breath rate corrects subclinical hyperventilation and normalizes carbon dioxide concentrations in the blood of asthmatics. Several peer-reviewed, clinical studies support the primarily subjective benefits of BBT, such as improvements in quality of life and reductions in the use of bronchodialators and inhaled corticosteroids. What’s more, comparisons of BBT vs. other techniques, including pranayama yoga breathing, generally favor BBT with regard to symptomatic changes. However, what has yet to be clearly demonstrated is exactly how BBT exerts its positive effects. For instance, carefully controlled scientific investigations have generally failed to observe the expected changes in carbon dioxide long postulated by Dr. Buteyko. Given this, one evaluation concluded that, “BBT might influence symptoms by improving the efficiency of the biomechanics of breathing”.

Although BBT has been found beneficial for most and very safe, it does require the active participation of highly motivated individuals who are willing to learn the process and practice it daily. I think it’s a therapeutic approach that ought to be considered by anyone looking for a natural adjunct or alternative to conventional care. However, for asthmatics who don’t find BBT appealing, there are a number of other breathing exercises and therapies that have also been documented as improving lung function and numerous measures of asthma-related quality of life. Recent studies indicate that: guided respiratory exercises improve muscle strength and treatment outcomes in senior asthmatics; aerobic exercise, alone or combined with diaphragmatic breathing, improves chest dimensions and increases the number of asthma-free days and; Senobi, a short and simple breathing and stretching technique, reduces the need for “asthma rescue medication use” and promotes more robust “forced expiratory volume”. Any one or combination of these options can assist with the management of asthma and should be considered by patients and physicians alike.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Hypocapnia and Asthma: A Mechanism for Breathing Retraining? (link)

Study 2 – A Clinical Trial of the Buteyko Breathing Technique in Asthma as Taught (link)

Study 3 – Effect of Two Breathing Exercises (Buteyko and Pranayama) in Asthma (link)

Study 4 – Buteyko Breathing Technique for Asthma: An Effective Intervention (link)

Study 5 – A Randomised Controlled Trial of the Buteyko Technique as an Adjunct (link)

Study 6 – Investigating the Claims of Konstantin Buteyko, M.D., Ph.D.: The (link)

Study 7 – Respiratory Exercise Program for Elderly Individuals with Asthma (link)

Study 8 – Pulmonary Function and Abdominal and Thoracic Kinematic Changes (link)

Study 9 – Effects of Aerobic Training on Airway Inflammation in Asthmatic (link)

Study 10 – “Senobi” Stretch Ameliorates Asthma Symptoms by Restoring (link)

The Buteyko Method Improves Symptom Scores in Asthmatics

Source: Thorax 2003;58:674-679 (link)

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise

8 Comments & Updates to “Buteyko Breathing Technique”

  1. Orna Izakson, ND, RH (AHG) Says:

    Ask and ye shall receive… Thanks, JP, for looking into this! What I want to know is not just symptom abatement, but actual changes in spirometry measures. I’m eager to look at the studies you cite!


  2. JP Says:

    It’s my pleasure, Orna!

    Here’s a starting point: http://j.mp/GSJ6sv … a full text version of one of the studies I cited in the column above.

    In this investigation, no spirometric advantage was found in those practicing the Buteyko Technique.

    Be well!


  3. Orna Izakson, ND, RH (AHG) Says:

    Weird study. I understand, though, how finding an appropriate control can be difficult. Lots of other confounders here. On the one hand, maybe spirometry would have been different if folks hadn’t reduced their meds. On the other hand, people were able to make significant reductions in their meds. That’s a big deal.

    Thanks again, JP, for digging all this up!


  4. JP Says:

    I agree, Orna. A reduction in medication use and subjective measures of improvement are significant.

    Be well!


  5. Annie Says:

    I have been able to eliminate almost all of my asthma and allergy symptoms by applying teh Buteyko Method – or Breathing Normalization as Buteyko called it. When applied properly it does elliminate symptoms and improve overall health. But the key is you need to make sure your are learning the method from a Certified Practitioner. Books and Dvd’s are helpful but the method is not one size fits all exactly – it takes some tailoring to your lifestyle in order to achieve the best results. If you want to learn more visit BreathingCenter.com, official representation of Clinica Buteyko Moscow.

  6. JP Says:

    Updated 06/11/16:


    J Asthma. 2016 Jun 10:0.

    A modified breathing exercise program for asthma is easy to perform and effective.

    OBJECTIVES: Breathing exercises are used by some asthmatic patients, yet are often difficult to perform and time-consuming. This study evaluated a simple, modified breathing exercise program regarding ease to perform and effectiveness as an adjunctive therapy.

    METHODS: Subjects age 18 to 65 with a current diagnosis of persistent asthma were enrolled. A program that incorporated three different breathing exercises (yoga pranayama techniques, diaphragmatic breathing and pursed lip breathing) was taught to subjects. The program was designed to be completed in less than 10 minutes per day. Subjects completed the Asthma Control Test (ACT) and mini-Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ) at baseline and at 1-month follow-up. They also completed a survey which asked them to rate the effectiveness and difficulty of the exercises, and whether they would recommend them in the future.

    RESULTS: A total of 74 subjects were enrolled in this study. The intervention improved breathing for 52.9% of the subjects, while 67.6% felt that their daily activity was improved and 66.1% noted that the exercises allowed decreased use of a rescue inhaler. Most subjects (80.9%) recommended breathing exercises as a complementary therapy for asthma and 79.4% of the subjects stated the exercises took less than 10 minutes per day total. Overall, ACT scores improved significantly (p = 0.002) with a statistically non-significant improvement in AQLQ scores.

    CONCLUSION: A simple program of breathing exercises was found to be effective and could be completed in less than 10 minutes per day. Furthermore, there was a statistically significant improvement in ACT scores post-exercise.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Updated 06/15/16:


    Cytokine. 2016 Jun 8;85:61-66.

    Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on serum levels of T-helper cytokines in children with asthma.

    BACKGROUND: There has been a considerable interest in the potential therapeutic value of dietary supplementation with ω-3 fatty acids in patients with asthma.

    OBJECTIVES: This cross-sectional study was designed to identify the effect of ω-3 fatty acids on symptom score, pulmonary function and serum T-helper cytokine concentrations in children with mild to moderate persistent asthma.

    METHODS: A total of 39 patients among 50 volunteers completed this 3-month study. They took a soft gel capsule containing 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA daily. Pulmonary function was evaluated in 28 eligible patients by spirometry, and serum levels of Th1, Th2, Th9, Th17 and Th22 cytokines were measured by multiplex cytometric bead assay before and after treatment.

    RESULTS: After treatment with ω-3, symptom score improved in 28 (72%) patients. The results of spirometry showed remarkable improvement in FEV1/FVC (P=0.044) and PEF (P<0.0001) after treatment, but considering a cut-off of 80%, real improvement was observed in 32% of patients with PEF<80% which raised above the cut-off after ω-3 treatment (P=0.004) whereas, FEV1/FVC changes were above the cut-off value in 89% of the patients. After treatment, IL-17A and TNF-α levels decreased significantly (both P=0.049).

    CONCLUSION: Oral administration of natural anti-inflammatory products such as ω-3 is a promising complementary approach to managing asthma.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Updated 12/21/16:


    Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2016 Nov;20(21):4547-4552.

    Breathing training on lower esophageal sphincter as a complementary treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): a systematic review.

    OBJECTIVE: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) represents one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, but is still a challenge to cure. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are currently the GERD’s standard treatment, although not successful in all patients; some concerns have been raised regarding their long term consumption. Recently, some studies showed the benefits of inspiratory muscle training in increasing the lower esophageal sphincter pressure in patients affected by GERD, thereby reducing their symptoms.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: Relevant published studies were searched in Pubmed, Google Scholar, Ovid or Medical Subject Headings using the following keywords: “GERD” and physiotherapy”, “GERD” and “exercise”, “GERD” and “breathing”, “GERD and “training”.

    RESULTS: At the end of our selection process, four publications have been included for systematic review. All of them were prospective controlled studies, mainly based on the training of the diaphragm muscle. GERD symptoms, pH-manometry values and PPIs usage were assessed.

    CONCLUSIONS: Among the non-surgical, non-pharmacological treatment modalities, the breathing training on diaphragm could play an important role in selected patients to manage the symptoms of GERD.

    Be well!


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