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The Buteyko Method Turns Asthma Upside Down

By Jason Earle Google+

We have read a lot about asthma in recent years, its association with mold exposure, the link to vitamin D deficiency, its mysterious connection with acetaminophen usage, and so on.

Few are prepared, however, for an encounter with the little-known discovery nearly 60 years ago that turns medical logic on its head, and which most physicians reject out of hand, yet which has a long track record of astonishing successes.

Konstantin Buteyko, a Russian doctor, discovered in 1952 that asthma does not cause the hyperventilation typically known as a symptom of the ailment. Hyperventilation, he contended, causes asthma. Not only that, but Dr. Buteyko claimed that a whole host of other diseases and syndromes are the result of too-deep breathing and are reversible with proper training.

Dr. Buteyko contended that a majority of people hyperventilate to an extent, and that those with the genetic predisposition to asthma react with asthmatic symptoms. Thus, he advocated his method for virtually anyone. 

His premise is that deep, rapid breathing depletes the body of carbon dioxide and that, with insufficient carbon dioxide, the cells are unable to receive oxygen from the red blood cells. In addition, the respiratory system reacts to hyperventilation by constricting the airways and producing extra mucus, in an effort to slow down the expulsion of carbon dioxide. This creates the classic symptoms of an asthma attack.

Curiously, he argued that 200 years ago asthma was a survival factor, because the asthmatic reaction helped prevent CO2 depletion and so asthmatics didn't acquire many of the diseases that killed their neighbors.  We haven't seen the research that might confirm this.

To rebuild the necessary level of CO2, Buteyko developed a series of breathing exercises that essentially involve holding the breath and training the respiratory system to breathe less frequently and less deeply. 

Needless to say, this goes against virtually every health teaching on the planet, from yoga to martial arts to modern fitness training. And yet, it makes a perverse kind of sense, which is why it's being presented here. 

The core of the theory is that when CO2 is depleted the hemoglobin in red blood cells is unable to release its oxygen to cells in the brain, organs and muscles. To increase CO2, one must either exercise to produce more CO2, or slow the breathing to retain the CO2 that is being produced. 

Hyperventilation, by itself, can be fatal in extreme cases. Many people have experienced the dizziness and confusion that can be induced by deliberate hyperventilation, and a common remedy for panic attacks is to breathe into a paper bag; the CO2 buildup calms the breathing.

Here is a synopsis in Dr. Buteyko's own words:

"When an excessive amount of air is consumed, a large amount of carbon dioxide is removed from the organism, consequently reducing the CO2 content of the lungs, blood, and tissue cells. A hyperventilation caused CO2 deficiency produces pH alkaline shifts in the blood and tissue cells. The pH shifts interfere with all protein (about 1000 in all) and vitamin (about 20) activity, altering the metabolic processes. Therefore, when the pH level reaches the value of 8, the metabolic disorders can cause death.

"A CO2 deficiency also causes spasms in the smooth muscles of the bronchi, cerebral and circulatory vessels, intestines, biliary ducts, and other organs. In the late 19th century, Bronislav Verigo, a Russian scientist from Perm, discovered a peculiar relationship: when CO2 diminishes from the blood, oxygen binds with hemoglobin and impairs the transport of oxygen to the brain, heart, kidneys, and other organs. In other words, the deeper the breathing, the less oxygen reaches vital organs in the body. This statement forms the basis of my discovery, one that has gone underappreciated until now. This dependency, presented by Verigo, was suppressed and ignored. At the same time, Christian Bohr, a Swedish scientist, made a similar discovery. Later on, this became known as the Bohr effect.

"Hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) in the brain caused by deep breathing triggers intense bronchial and cardiac spasms. Hypoxia in vital organs is counter-balanced by the rise in arterial tension (artery hypertension), enhances blood circulation and provides the organs with blood. Oxygen starvation, when combined with hyperventilation, causes a false feeling of air deficiency, excites the respiratory center, intensifies breathing, and contributes to the progression of disease.

"A CO2 deficiency in the nerve cells excites all of the structures in the nervous system, thus making the process of breathing even more intense. As a result, oxygen starvation in nerve cells, in combination with metabolic malfunctions and an over-excited nervous system, brings about mental disorders, destroys the nervous system (sclerosis of cerebral vessels) and, finally, causes a deterioration of an individual's physical and mental health."  

There is a wealth of information about the Buteyko Method on the internet, not the least of which is the official US practitioners' site, ButeykoCenterUSA.com. There are also a number of books on the subject, including "Close Your Mouth: Buteyko Breathing Clinic self help manual" by Patrick McKeown.

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The Buteyko Method Turns Asthma Upside Down
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