Q:I read an article last week about the Russian Buteyko Breathing Reconditioning Technique now undergoing clinical trials in Australia.

This took me back 39 years to my boarding school days. As the only asthmatic child in the school, I attracted the attention of our half Russian matron, who also seemed to have her own ideas about asthma and breathing techniques. She thought that asthma was actually a form of overbreathing, and I was subjected to various exercises to expel the excess air in my lungs from blowing up balloons and blow football to shallow breathing encouragement.

I have to wonder now whether she was right. I have since always tried to shallow breathe and avoid coughing as much as possible, as one tends to take in unnecessary mounts of air just in order to cough, which I think is the asthmatic vicious circle.

I have always fundamentally known that my particular form of asthma is caused by too much stale air in my lungs and can be better controlled by breathing techniques.

My doctors still insists on giving me prescriptions for Becotide, and I carry on chucking them in the bin because she would not find the time to even listen to this theory. L F G, Somerset……

A:Lately, the National Asthma Campaign has put out a statement on the method strongly advising people with asthma “not to pay several hundred pounds to be taught a method of treatment which is of unproven benefit” (unlike steroids and bronchodilators, of course, the “correct” treatment, says the NAC no doubt of great proven benefit and safety!).

Konstantin Butekyo, born near Kiev in Russia, who spend many hours studying the breathing of patients with diseases, theorized that certain diseases develop because the patients are hyperventilating, which lowers carbon dioxide levels in the body. His theory is that low levels of carbon dioxide cause blood vessels to spasm and then starves the tissues of oxygen. The body then produces certain defense mechanisms to cope with the problem.

This was particularly true of patients with asthma, he believed. He then developed a method to help recondition patients to breathe in a more shallow fashion, and a method of quickly measuring a patient’s breathing. The method entails a series of continuous shallow nasal breathing exercises, interspersed with breath holding exercises, to stabilize the patients to breathe normally.

Although there are very few published scientific studies outside of Buteyko’s own trials, the data that does exist is encouraging. One study pointed to several studies linking asthma with hyperventiliation, particularly in patients frightened of sustaining another attack (Br J Psychiatry, 1988; 153: 687-8).

In Buteyko’s own studies on children with asthma, after four days of the treatment, which took about 10 minutes to learn, 73 per cent cut down on their medication (although steroids had to be withdrawn gradually). Patients were allowed to take their medication if they were unable to stop an attack after 10 to 15 minutes using the technique. But even in these cases, medication dosage was reduced by half to two thirds. After 84 days, 82.7 per cent of children were recorded as considerably improved.

In one other workshop of 35 patients held in Australia, after four and a half months 27 of 31 recorded fewer symptom frequency; 15 of 31 were able to overcome most attacks (7, all attacks), 5 of 6 were able to totally reduce use of nebulized bronchodilators; 12 of 27 were able to totally reduce aerosal bronchodialors; and 14 of 25 were able to reduce their steroid use. Twenty three of the 35 felt the method was superior to conventional medical treatment of asthma (Med J Austr, 1995; 162: 53).

Although the treatment does require more objective evaluation, it may be worth trying so long as the allergy route hasn’t worked and you have an experienced, responsible practitioner who won’t suddenly stop steroids or remove all drugs if you need them as a temporary crutch. For more information, ring the Hale Clinic, 0171-631-0156.

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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