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Commentary on the Brisbane Trial

The clinical trial compared the efficacy of the Buteyko Breathing Method with conventional treatment of asthma. The control group was on a regime of medical management, physiotherapy exercises, and asthma education and recorded no improvement. 

The Buteyko Method group reduced bronchodilators by an average of 90%, with significant reduction in asthma symptoms, steroid medication and with improvements in their quality of life.

The main premise of the Buteyko Method is that asthma symptoms reduce in response to a reduction in hyperventilation and normalisation of the breathing pattern. At the start of the trial all 39 participants demonstrated resting hyperventilation with minute volume MV 14 litres/min (Normal MV = 4-6 litres/min). At 3 months the Buteyko group had reduced MV to 9.6 litres/min, while the control group were unchanged.

The Buteyko techniques teach asthma sufferers to reduce their breathing to normal levels.  Analysis showed a significant difference between the groups' ventilation and a correlation between reduction in minute volumes and bronchodilator usage for the Buteyko group. This finding helps corroborate Buteyko’s theory so exclusion of the data from the trial publication was somewhat unusual.

Tess Graham wrote this paper to raise awareness about the importance of these findings which were omitted from the final publication. The paper explains the study findings and recommends that everyone involved with the management of asthma respond to its unequivocal results. In particular, there is a need to review traditional management practices which may encourage asthma sufferers to increase their breathing volume.  This is inappropriate if their asthma arose from or is exacerbated by over-breathing.

The Buteyko Method stems from an orthodox approach to respiration.  It recognises hyperventilation and hypocapnia as causes of physiological distress and treats it appropriately and effectively by normalising breathing.

Another consistent misinterpretation of these results is to read the lack of change in lung function in the Buteyko group at the end of the trial as a negative. The correct way to interpret these findings is recognition that the Buteyko group achieved significant reduction in medication without loss of lung function. In order to match the Buteyko and control groups on this score it would be necessary to reduce medication for the control group to the same level as the Buteyko group. This of course would be unethical due to the likely deterioration in lung function in that group and its consequences. 

Download Self-Management of Asthma Through Normalisation of Breathing – The Role of Breathing Therapy by Tess Graham, Physiotherapist (pdf)

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