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The Buteyko breathing method is based on the assumption that many health problems are caused by hyperventilation.

By training people to breath less, it claims that (amongst other symptoms) asthma can be cured, or at least improved.

Is there any evidence that supports this case?

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Short answer: The method may or may not completely cure asthma but may be used to reduce dependency on an inhaler. It is not proven to work for all patients.

It has wider acceptance in Australia and UK and more opposition in the USA from what I've found so far. See the last bit of my post on that.

Proponents of the method may know that

British Guideline on the Management of Asthma - A national clinical guideline from the NHS and British Thoracic Society in 2008 (See PDF pg 35) gave it the following recommendation

The Buteyko breathing technique specifi cally focuses on control of hyperventilation and any ensuing hypocapnia. Four clinical trials suggest benefi ts in terms of reduced symptoms and bronchodilator usage but no effect on lung function.

Category B

Buteyko breathing technique may be considered to help patients to control the symptoms of asthma.

In April 2009, a course to train nurses how to teach the Buteyko Breathing Technique to people with asthma was launched by Coventry University and the Buteyko Breathing Association. This shows a more mainstream acceptance of this technique in the UK.

There have been at least 8 clinical trials as listed on this page. Notably none are in the USA and none are very large groups (none more than 69 subjects). This page also links to abstracts of each of the trials - I've summarized conclusions below.

ENGLAND 2009 (32 subjects, 5 weeks)

By teaching patients to reduce hypernoea of breathing (the rate & depth), BBT may reduce asthma symptoms and improve exercise tolerance and control.

CANADA 2008 (56 subjects)

Six months after completion of the interventions, a large majority of subjects in each group displayed control of their asthma with the additional benefit of reduction in inhaled corticosteroid use in the Buteyko group

NEW ZEALAND 2006 (8 subjects)

Conclusions: children’s decreased use of reliever medication mirror adults and warrant further studies.

AUSTRALIA 2006 (23 subjects)

Conclusion: breathing techniques useful in management of asthma.

The process of routine and as required exercises may reinforce a message of relaxation and self efficacy and provide a deferral strategy for reliever use.

ENGLAND 2003 (23 subjects)

Conclusion: Buteyko can reduce bronchodilator use and improve symptoms. Buteyko may be worth trying in patients who are sympathetic to the ethos and are willing to commit the time required.

Choice of control is difficult, maintaining blindness is a problem. Limited follow up visits to one for each group to remain comparable, but some subjects would have liked more. Success or failure relies heavily on patient/practitioner relationship.

Paitents need to be motivated, so the success rate of a formal trial may be less than that seen in everyday practice, and since patients did not chose the Buteyko couse, and because they are not paying, they may be less committed to seeing it through.

NEW ZEALAND 2003 (17 subjects)

At six months Buteyko Group (n=17) or control (n=17) asthma education and relaxation.
• Reliever medication decreased by 85% in Buteyko group, by 37% in control group.
• Inhaled corticosteroids decreased by 50% in Buteyko group, unchanged in control.

AUSTRALIA 2000

Conclusions: Buteyko may be effective in improving quality of life and reducing inhaled reliever medication in patients with asthma –warrants further investigation.

AUSTRALIA 1998 (19 subjects)

At three months Buteyko Group achieved
• Reliever medication decreased by 90%. Significantly more than control (P=0.002)
• Trend towards reduction of inhaled corticosteroids

So now on to the opposition, the Wikipedia article you've linked has the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute asthma guideline concluding this summary

The Expert Panel concludes there is insufficient evidence to suggest that breathing techniques provide clinical benefit to patients who have asthma. Controlled studies have been conducted with breathing exercises (Holloway and Ram 2004), inspiratory muscle training (Ram et al. 2003; Weiner et al. 2002), and Buteyko breathing (Cooper et al. 2003) (raising blood PCO2 through hypoventilation).

but Cooper's actual study was on Buteyko v Pranayam and notes

Symptoms remained relatively stable in the PCLE (to mimic Pranayam) and placebo groups but were reduced in the Buteyko group

and concludes that inhaler use may be reduced

CONCLUSION: The Buteyko breathing technique can improve symptoms and reduce bronchodilator use but does not appear to change bronchial responsiveness or lung function in patients with asthma. No benefit was shown for the Pink City Lung Exerciser.

From what I've seen on some forums, the US opposition is a conspiracy angle, that this will reduce sales for large pharmaceuticals.

Some further reading

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    The claim that asthma is cased by hyperventilation is trivially false. This alone should be enough to prove any claims of “healing” asthma. On the other hand, alleviating symptoms (=asthma attack) with controlled breathing is pretty well established and the technique is biologically sound. – Konrad Rudolph Sep 9 '11 at 15:33
  • @KonradRudolph Who has claimed that asthma is caused by hyperventilation? – user5582 Jul 2 '13 at 20:44
  • @Sancho The question has. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 2 '13 at 20:50
  • No, it makes two separate claims: that the method is based on an assumption that many problems are caused by hyperventilation, and that the method also helps relieve asthma symptoms. It doesn't say that the asthma relief is due to treating hyperventilation or that asthma is caused by hyperventilation. – user5582 Jul 2 '13 at 21:06
  • @Sancho The claim is not only that it helps to relieve symptoms. There is also the explicit claim that it cures asthma. In fact, if you read the Wikipedia article you’ll find that most research done on the method was focused on showing that it can indeed cure asthma. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 3 '13 at 9:53

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