Buteyko Method and Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

- Updated on July 31, 2019

– Interview with Dr. Andrey Novozhilov, MD published in the Russian national newspaper
“Argumenti i fakti” (Arguments and facts), Health Section, 30 January 2003, issue 05(442)
– (Translation) Last updated on September 25, 2018

On 27 January 2003 K. P. Buteyko celebrated his 80th birthday. How do you breathe?

Many people have a suspicious attitude towards the theory developed by Buteyko. Meanwhile, this theory, for more than 40 years, has had many supporters. It helped so many people to get rid of asthma, hypertension and other problems. The major idea of this theory is that the main cause of so-called diseases of civilizations is carbon dioxide (CO2) deficiency in the lungs. This deficiency is caused by hyperventilation of the lungs or deep breathing.

We all get used to thinking that carbon dioxide, which we breathe out, is not necessary for the organism. However, it has its role. Doctor Buteyko suggests normalizing the main function of our organism, the system of external breathing, using the method of voluntary elimination of deep breathing. For many people that may look unreal: how is it possible, to coerce oneself to breathe less?

Today we have a conversation about the Buteyko method with the chief doctor of the medical center for Buteyko breathing Andrey Novozshilov.

Andrey Evgenievich, it follows, that deep breathing is not useful for the man, but what about physical exercise, during which ventilation of the lungs is increased?

Ventilation of the lungs is aimed to serve metabolism, which has a certain intensity. The intensity of ventilation of the lungs should coincide with the needs of metabolism. The activity of metabolism, in different states, is different. At rest, metabolism is slow; ventilation should be also small. An athlete, when doing physical exercises, has a very high metabolism. CO2 production is very large, ventilation increases automatically. Instead of 5 liters, he can breathe up to 100 liters per minute. However, that is not hyperventilation, that is a reasonable process and it is not pathology. But when hyperventilation is not connected with physical exercise, when it is above the needs of metabolism at rest – that is hyperventilation or something that Buteyko called “deep breathing”. That can be the cause of disease.

How to define if ventilation is excessively large?

It is possible using instrumental systems of control, but such methods are not easy in real life. Buteyko suggested a very simple method – using breath holding: if after standard, quiet exhalation, one holds the breath, when the time, in seconds, during which the man can stop breathing, accurately reflects the level of carbon dioxide. If breath-holding time is equal to 60 seconds that means that the amount of carbon dioxide is correspondent to the norm.

No breathing for one minute?

Yes, ideally, any person should be able to do that. If breathe holding time is smaller, that says that CO2 level is reduced. How, for example, can chronic rhinitis appear? Air passages constrict in order to reduce excessive ventilation and, as a result, to increase the level of carbon dioxide. Similarly, in the origin of the bronchial asthma is periodically appearing constriction of bronchi or bronchospasm. The bronchus is a tube with embedded muscles, which can constrict. When that happens, the bronchus is obstructed, and the person starts to suffocate. An ability of these muscles to constrict is ruled precisely by the level of carbon dioxide.

Treatment of bronchial asthma using the Buteyko method is based on teaching the patient to define if ventilation of his lungs is correspondent to normal parameters. If it is elevated, we decrease ventilation using special exercises. That allows, during 10 seconds, to increase CO2 level; and, just in front of us, the spasm or the attack of suffocation starts to disappear.

The same relates to chronic rhinitis. Any man, who suffers from rhinitis, can try the following exercise. Listen to how you breathe, which feelings you experience (how air moves through your nose, your chest rises, and drops). Now try to decrease the intensity of these feelings, to conceal your breathing, and to decrease the intensity of the air jet. In 10 seconds the CO2 levels get larger.

If I hold my breath for a while, after that I want to breath in with the full chest…

Of course, there are certain difficulties since we cannot stop breathing. However, we are not talking about stopping breathing, but about decreasing the volume of the air stream, judging with your sensitivity to the process of breathing. One should not jam breathing. The goal is not to eliminate these feelings but to decrease their intensity…

And to do that constantly?

Until the disappearance of the symptoms, which bother you: if your nose is blocked, do the exercises and, factually, in 1 minute you will feel relief. You can stop exercising until the nose is blocked again, and you will be compelled to repeat them. This method, at least, would help you to get rid of nasal drops. Medical drugs are replaced with breathing exercises.

If a man, during an asthma attack, starts to suffocate, but he is advised to breathe less!?

Yes, psychologically this is, of course, difficult, and since any attack is a threat to the life, experiments here are not required. For this reason, there is no literature about the Buteyko method, so that people would not be able to experiment. We suggest practicing only under medical supervision. Without skills, one can only intensify the course of the attack. If restriction of ventilation of the lungs is too intense, there is an instinctive desire to breathe in. The man will do that and at that moment he will lose those CO2 remainders, which he had. A doctor should learn a delicate approach when working with breathing. It should not be done using a rough attack, while just such an approach was transferred to Australia. They have now Buteyko Institute and Australian modification of the method consists of a series of breath holds with a certain interval. In spite of the fact, that this is psychologically difficult, there are results, CO2 increases, and the attack, this or the other way is eliminated. Meanwhile, our approach is associated with very delicate restriction of the air stream basing on individual sensitivity of the person to the process of breathing.

Can it be so, that there is an excess of CO2 in the lungs? Can it appear as a result of the exercises?

Practice shows that it is difficult even to reach the norm.

What are the consequences of the Buteyko method: the person starts to breathe shallowly all the time or the complex of exercises is to be done periodically?

When the carbon dioxide level is increased, we guarantee that an asthmatic would not get an attack, unless the level drops. However, normal modern lifestyle gradually causes a reduction in the CO2 level.

Why does hyperventilation form, since nobody especially practices deep breathing and unnatural breathing exercises are not performed?

The main cause is the lack of physical activity, low level of metabolism in general. We must work out at least 4 hours per day, with heavy perspiration. Then you would get a high level of metabolism. The method should be practiced until the level of carbon dioxide is stabilized and reached the value when the attacks are impossible. It is practically impossible to maintain this state without physical exercise. If a person, due to some reasons, cannot do physical exercises, he should do the breathing ones. There is nothing wrong with that since the exercises are not hard and can be performed practically in any situation.

Which problems do patients bring to your Clinic?

60% of patients have diseases of the respiratory organs. The second place is for cardiovascular diseases: hypertension and stenocardia. Author’s certificate and the patent for the Buteyko method include three main diseases, which give the best results during treatment: bronchial asthma, hypertension, and stenocardia. In addition, the more severe the disease and its symptoms, the better the result. When the person feels bad, he will do everything possible and will learn properly. As soon as there is an improvement, the interest disappears.

Are there any contraindications to the method?

As we discussed, the goal is to normalize the ventilation of the lungs. Which contraindications can be for the norm?

Even the simplest method has contraindications…

We can recommend the intensive variation. It is quick and effective. However, there are certain diseases when it should not be used, for example, in cases of hypertension with acute symptoms (severe headaches, etc.). If ventilation is significantly reduced during the critical period, then that will cause a period of elevated blood pressure. In 10-15 minutes the pressure will be stable. But if you do not want to have this exacerbation, when the approach should be very delicate. The same is true for myocardial infarction. Caution in the application of the method is based on certain physiological processes in the heart muscle. However, any doctor, who is practicing the Buteyko method, knows that.

Is the method universal for all diseases or some exercises are for asthma, others for hypertension?

The exercises are the same for all diseases. However, there is a factor that is defined by the form of the disease. In severe cases, we prescribe cautious types of exercises.

Should the exercises be practiced every day?

That depends on the results, which you are trying to get. It could happen that a man, for example, in order to unblock his nose, held his breath. The nose was unblocked and the man abandoned exercises until the next case. If he wants more stable results, so that not just to eliminate symptoms, but to prevent the appearance of the disease when the efficiency of our exercises can be evaluated by a CO2 increase. Measure your CO2 before and after the exercises. If there is growth, you can finish.

What is the earliest age for children to practice these exercises?

The youngest patient was one year and eight months old. The child had the severest form of bronchial asthma, he was using hormones.

How is it possible to explain to such a young child what is required of him?

We, first, explain everything to his mother or father. One of them should complete our course as a usual patient, in order to understand what is required of the child. The process of treatment is the creation of prophylactic measures.

Do you want to tell that all people, who arrive at you with bronchial asthma, leave you without it?

If the person really wants to, then yes. Some patients only achieve the level of elimination of symptoms; others go further. Yuri Kuklachev’s son had such a severe allergy, especially because of cats and horses, that even approaching them would cause the state similar to Quince’s edema. His family tried various professionals. In our clinic, within half of the year, it was possible not only to eliminate all symptoms of the disease but also to completely get rid of the problem.

Is abandonment of drugs required?

Of course, no. Only with progress. In the beginning – breathing, later – physical exercises, which will sustain sufficient CO2 level.

Which clinics use the Buteyko method?

According to the Directive of the Health Minister, this method can be used since 1985 by any doctor. However, in spite of the simplicity of the method, certain skills are necessary. Many doctors practice this method, but it is often reduced to breath holds. This simplified version does not do any good.

The interview was conducted by Julia Ekareva

Note: An adult should breathe, at rest, 5 liters of air per minute. CO2 deficiency is not a trivial problem. A two-fold CO2 drop can cause the death of the organism. Some schoolboys take several deep breaths and lose their consciousness. Hence, temporary spasms of blood vessels, leading to the brain and other organs, are very dangerous.

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