Konstantin Buteyko revolutionised the treatment of asthma by treating asthma as a symptom of excessive breathing (overbreathing) brought on by numerous base health and emotional problems. Discover why over 100,000 asthmatics have treated their asthma with this method.
Close Your Mouth by Patrick McKeown Chapter 1-5
Derek started the Buteyko program after a quiet Sunday spent looking up alternative Asthma treatments now that his medication was causing more problems than helping.
The inhaled corticosterods were continually causing an oral thrush which he was no treating with an antifungal medicine, and together it was becoming expensive and wearing.
Derek was used to treating his asthma with medication and his family doctor had always filled out prescriptions and wished him well and sent him on his way. He had no reason to mistrust his doctor as they had been together long-term and his doctor was always available for consultations and prescriptions for the new medications on the market.
Clicking through the internet Derek stumbled upon a treat asthma yourself page from a Buteyko practitioner. Skipping the introduction he went straight to the ‘Clear your blocked nose’ exercises which involves pinching your nose and nodding your head 10 times at the end of the exhale 3 times.
Expecting nothing, Derek tried this and to his utter, complete surprise his nose cleared within the 30 seconds it took to do the exercise.
Totally intrigued, Derek moved down to the next exercise which was a ‘Test your asthma level’ and followed the instructions using the breath-hold steps. He was shocked when he could not hold his breath for more than 10 seconds, and eagerly moved on to the next exercise which was a simple matter of walking around the room while holding the breath at the end of the exhale.
Within 5 minutes of following the instructions Derek felt, calmer, the pressure in his chest had eased and he was breathing comfortably – for the first time in his life.
The Buteyko Method was developed in the 1950s by Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko. His method has been practised by hundreds of thousands of people for a variety of conditions including asthma, blood pressure, sleeping difficulties, anxiety, stress, panic attacks and depression.
As a young doctor, Buteyko spent many months sitting at sick patients’ bedsides observing their states of health. He noticed that each person’s breathing got heavier as his or her health deteriorated. As their illnesses advanced, he saw that his patients breathing movements from their chests and tummies increased, that their breathing became more audible, that their breaths became faster and that they sighed more and breathed through their mouths. In time, he was able to predict the onset of death just by observing their breathing.
This raised a fundamental question for Buteyko: was it his patients’ sickness that contributed to their heavy breathing or was it their heavy breathing that contributed to their sickness?
He began experimenting with quieter, reduced breathing and over the decades that followed treated hundreds of thousands of patients suffering from asthma, hypertension, sleep disorders and depression.
The number of breaths per minute during normal breathing is about 10 to 12. Each breath is approximately 500 ml. This provides a healthy volume, as described in any university medical textbook, of five to six litres of air per minute. Normal breathing is quiet, still, calm, relaxed and regular.
Persons suffering from asthma, anxiety and depression tend to breathe a volume greater than normally accepted amounts. For example, an average sized person with anxiety might breathe 15 to 20 breaths per minute, with each breath larger than the normal 500 ml. Interspersed with this is a number of sighs. Assuming that each breath is 700 ml, the average breathing volume for this person is 10 to 15 litres of air per minute. In food terms, this is akin to eating six to nine meals each day.
Chronic overbreathing basically means that we habitually breathe more air than what our bodies require. In many ways, this is similar to a person developing the habit of overeating.
Breathing is similar. If we breathe more than what our bodies require over a 24-hour period, the habit takes hold. Dr Stephen Demeter confirms this when he states, “Prolonged hyperventilation (for more than 24 hours) seems to sensitize the brain, leading to a more prolonged hyperventilation.”(1)
Breathing increases as a result of modern living. Factors such as strong emotions, time urgency, tension, anger, stress, anxiety, overeating, processed foods, a belief that taking big breaths is good, lack of exercise, excessive talking and high temperatures within the home all contribute to overbreathing.
For most people, overbreathing is subtle. It is hidden, which is why it often goes undetected. The typical characteristics of people attending my clinics include:
Breathing through the mouth
Audible breathing during rest
Taking large breaths prior to talking
Yawning with big breaths
Upper chest movement
Movement of shoulders while breathing
Heavy breathing at night
The fact that overbreathing can be seen as a negative thing seems somewhat contra-indicatory. Shouldn’t better health come with breathing more? As an athlete, wouldn’t breathing more help VO2 max and efforts at threshold?
Current medication for asthma increases breathing volume per minute by opening the constrictions during an asthma attack, continuing the over-breathing situation.
When we are faced with a stressful situation, our personal coach tells us to ‘take a deep breath’, encouraging over-breathing.
During training, an athlete is convinced gulping large lungfuls of air will increase their performance, and when watching an athlete such as Tony Martin riding with his mouth wide open during a Time Trial, this negative stereotype is reinforced.
So, what happens during over-breathing?
Surprisingly, during heavy breathing, we exhale nearly 50% of the air we just inhaled, leading to an increase in physiological stress as the body struggles to adapt to a lower partial pressure of CO2. Slowly, over time the body adapts to this lower partial pressure, and the O2 level in the bloodstream remains high while the CO2 remains low.
Simulated Altitude Training relies on an INCREASE in CO2 in the blood, and over-breathing makes this practically impossible.
What is CO2 and why is it important?
Carbon dioxide or CO2 is a gas created from our metabolic process as an end product. The human lungs require 5% CO2 or 40 mmHg. If we breathe too heavily, CO2 is exhaled or washed from our lungs. A loss of CO2 from the lungs results in a reduction of CO2 in the blood, tissues and cells.
The release of oxygen from red blood cells depends on the partial pressure or quantity of carbon dioxide in your lungs/arterial blood. When one is overbreathing, carbon dioxide is removed from the body, causing the oxygen to “stick” to haemoglobin within the red blood cells. This prevents its release into tissues and organs. This bond, discovered in 1904, is known as the Bohr Effect.
It is worth noting that during normal conditions, 75% of your intake of oxygen is exhaled while breathing a healthy volume of four to six litres per minute. Even during intense exercise, it is estimated that 25% of our oxygen intake is exhaled. Breathing a volume greater than normal does not increase the amount of oxygen in your blood, as it is already 97–98% saturated.
Carbon dioxide relaxes the smooth muscles that surround the airways, arteries and capillaries.
With a normal breathing volume of 5 litres of air per minute, the partial pressure of carbon dioxide amounts to 40mmHg. Each 1 mmHg drop of arterial CO2 reduces blood flow to the brain by 2%.(2)
In other words, oxygenation of your brain significantly decreases when you breathe heavily.
The heavier you breathe, the more you feed your hyperventilation or overbreathing related problems.
Have you ever noticed that you get light-headed after taking a number of big breaths?
Have you ever noticed being very tired in the morning after a night’s breathing through the mouth?
How tired are you after a day’s talking?
Do you notice that, as you get stressed, your breathing gets faster, resulting in a mental block and difficulty in making worthwhile decisions?
Heavy breathing feeds anxiety and stress.
On a physiological level, over-breathing leads to LESS useable oxygen in the body!
An old method used during a panic attack was to breathe into a brown paper bag until calm. This method of breathing increased the CO2 in the body, releasing oxygen into the tissues and muscles.
Asthma is the human body’s brown paper bag. An asthma ‘attack’ is the human bodies reaction to a life-threateningly high level of O2 in the body, and shutting down the bodies breathing mechanism to increase CO2.
Therefore, Asthma ‘medication’ is doing nothing more than increasing overbreathing and O2 in the body, when what the bodies needs more than anything else is LESS O2!