The Buteyko method is a form of medical woo that purports to treat asthma and other conditions.
Practitioners will claim that: "Buteyko is a clinically proven technique that delivers immediate and sustained relief from breathing-related problems. It is drug free and can be practised by children and adults." Apart from asthma, supporters claim efficacy against a range of other conditions, including sleep apnoea, bronchitis, emphysema and bed-wetting. Oh yeah, it will also boost sports performance.
The method was developed in Russia in the 1950s by physiologist Konstantin Buteyko and quickly gained status as an approved treatment for bronchial asthma.
There is little scientific support for the Buteyko method, with few high-quality clinical trials undertaken.
The method posits that the cause of asthma and many other conditions is hyperventilation; therefore if the depth of breath is reduced, it can potentially treat those diseases. They achieve this by sheer willpower and relaxing of breathing muscles.
If the theory is true, there should be many biological signs of hyperventilation in those suffering from asthma and other diseases the Buteyko method claims to treat. However there are no such signs.
A study published in Thorax found that 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". However it was a very small study with only 78 people completing and noted problems with coming up with a suitable control: those in the Buteyko group were "more likely to believe they were receiving active treatment", suggesting the placebo effect may have played a role. This follows the pattern of other tests (almost always on small groups) where users often report an improvement, but there is no change in measurements of pulmonary function or other objective outcomes.
A review of previous studies was published in Elsevier's Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2005, but was also inconclusive, finding a great deal of variation in how the method is applied (often including exercise, nutrition advice, meditation, and other relaxation techniques alongside the focus on breathing) and no evidence for any mechanism by which it allegedly works. Although all the studies it examined reported improvement in some measures, there was a lack of consistency, and the authors called for further studies to evaluate the method.
- "Buteyko Method: the experience of the implementation in the medical practice", (in Russ.), Odessa, TITUL, 1991
- Buteyko Breathing Technique – Nothing to Hyperventilate About, Joseph Albietz, Science Based Medicine, December 25, 2009
- Effect of two breathing exercises (Buteyko and pranayama) in asthma: a randomised controlled trial, S Cooper, J Oborne, S Newton, V Harrison, J Thompson Coon, S Lewis, A Tattersfield, Thorax 2003;58:674-679.
- The Buteyko breathing technique for asthma: A review, A.Bruton, G.T.Lewith, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Volume 13, Issue 1, March 2005, Pages 41-46, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2005.01.003