Asthma: The Conventional Treatment Versus The Buteyko Method

All over the world, millions of people suffer from asthma. Medical and scientific organizations continue to try to find a cure. However, the number of asthmatics continues to grow. This article is an attempt to understand what might be causing this situation.


Sasha Yakovleva interviews  A.E. Novozhilov MD, the Medical Director of the Buteyko Clinic in Moscow.

Andrey Novozhilov, MD
Sasha Yakovleva

Sasha: Asthmatics who have applied the Buteyko Breathing Method often say, I cured my asthma! Nevertheless, from a doctor’s perspective, this statement is incorrect. As a medical doctor, could you please explain why conventional medicine considers asthma to be an incurable disease?

Dr. Novozhilov: From the perspective of conventional medicine, asthma is triggered by chronic allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes. As a result of this, a person with asthma experiences a reversible airflow obstruction, which means that his or her air passages narrow from time to time. This is normally accompanied by bronchospasm, edema, and extra mucus, causing asthmatics to struggle with shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and suffocation attacks. When this allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes becomes more active, the airways become narrower, and as a result asthma symptoms become stronger and appear more frequently. When allergic inflammation quiets down to almost nothing, asthmatics forget about their disease as if they never had it. Unfortunately, allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes never stops. It lies in ambush, waiting for an opportunity to become active again. Sooner or later this happens, as a result of a person coming in contact with allergens, viruses, pollutants, or even simply cold air. Then the intensity of the inflammation starts increasing again, the air passages become smaller, and consequently, the asthmatic starts experiencing shortness of breath, coughing, and other symptoms. When this happens, doctors normally prescribe steroid-based medications, since no other type of medication is capable of reducing allergic inflammation in the bronchial tubes. So steroids tame asthma, and an asthmatic is given another chance to forget about his or her disease until allergic inflammation kicks in again.

Sasha: So, to stop asthma completely, it is necessary to stop the allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Is it possible to achieve this goal by applying medication?

Dr. Novozhilov: As of today, there is no medication capable of achieving this goal. Moreover, even the possibility of creating this medication is not feasible since doctors still don’t know the main cause of allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes, and don’t fully understand the mechanisms of its development. Since doctors have no means of eliminating allergic inflammation, they have to label asthma an incurable disease. The only thing they can do is to control asthma by reducing or preventing its symptoms with various drugs, including steroids.

Sasha: Would you explain how the work of K.P. Buteyko, MD differs from the conventional medical outlook on asthma? What is the theoretical basis of this natural treatment for asthma?

Dr. Novozhilov: Doctor Buteyko proved that a deficiency of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the lungs must be present in order for allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes to appear or to flare up.It is not difficult to verify this scientific hypothesis by observing asthmatics who apply the Buteyko Breathing Method. When asthmatics start correcting the CO2 deficiency in their lungs, the allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes quiets down proportionally, and consequently, the narrowing of the air passages reduces and occurs less frequently. When the concentration of CO2 becomes stable at the level of the medical norm, allergic inflammation of the lungs disappears completely, and together with it, all asthma symptoms.

Sasha: Do all asthmatics experience a shortage of CO2 in the lungs? Is their CO2 level always below the medical norm?

Dr. Novozhilov: Yes. If a person has been diagnosed with asthma, the level of CO2 in his or her lungs is always below the norm.

Sasha: And why is that?

Dr. Novozhilov: The loss of CO2 is a result of excessive breathing, which is always present in the case of asthma. It is easy to notice that asthmatics are mouth-breathers; their breathing is heavy, often noisy, possibly accompanied by obvious movements of the shoulders, chest, or abdominal area. Even visually, this breathing does not look healthy! Doctors call it hyperventilation of the lungs. Hyperventilation causes asthmatics to lose CO2, and this is what creates the deficiency. Doctor Buteyko was the first in the history of health and healing to suggest using a gradual reduction of breathing as a natural asthma remedy. When breathing becomes quiet and gentle, hyperventilation is reduced or eradicated. As a result, the level of CO2 in the lungs increases, and eventually becomes normal.

Sasha: To summarize, Doctor Buteyko’s natural treatment for asthma helps to reduce allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Can we say that his method produces the same effect as steroids?

Dr. Novozhilov: By eliminating the CO2 shortage in the lungs, the Buteyko method reduces allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes, so it does result in the same effect as the intake of steroids. Nevertheless, there is a significant difference: steroids are not capable of ending allergic inflammation, whereas the Buteyko Method is. A good example of this is Dr. Buteyko’s wife, Ludmila Buteyko. For many years she had been suffering from severe suffocation attacks due to her asthma. She even experienced several clinical deaths. When she met Konstantin Buteyko and learned how to apply his method, her suffocation attacks stopped, and for the next forty years, she did not experience any asthma symptoms, even when she caught a very bad cold. This indicates that the allergic inflammation in her bronchial tubes was completely extinguished. This happened because the level of CO2 in her lungs was always equal to the medical norm or even higher. Under these conditions, allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes is impossible and cannot be provoked.

Sasha: I’d like to mention that there is another very significant difference between the Buteyko Method and steroidsDr. Buteyko’s natural treatment for asthma does not have any negative side effects, whereas long-term steroid intake can cause serious health problems.

Dr. Novozhilov: Buteyko Breathing Method is a holistic method: its application not only removes asthma symptoms but also strengthens overall health, improving the efficiency of the human body as a unified system. The effective functioning of the human body, which we commonly call health, is possible only when the level of CO2 remains normal.

Sasha: Yet doctors often say: Are you trying to increase CO2 in an asthmatic? The level of CO2 in his blood is already so high that he can die from it!

Dr. Novozhilov: Yes, doctors who have not studied the scientific discovery of K.P. Buteyko often make this type of statement. It is important to understand that when it comes to asthma, the goal of the Buteyko Method is not an abstract increase in the level of CO2, but the elimination of CO2 insufficiency specifically in the lungs, (NOT in the blood!) since the development of allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes and the reversible airflow obstruction depends on an under-supply of CO2 in the lungs. In a healthy person who does not have asthma, the gas exchange between the lungs and the blood is normal, which results in the concentration of CO2 in the lungs and the blood being approximately the same. If there is a CO2 shortage in the lungs, then there will be a CO2 shortage in the blood. Conversely, if a person suffers from asthma, especially in its severe form, the gas exchange between the lungs and the blood can be impaired. Because of this, the levels of CO2 in the lungs and the blood can differ. Any asthmatic, whether he has a severe, mild, or light form of asthma, has a CO2 deficiency in his or her lungs. However, the concentration of CO2 in his or her blood can be anywhere in a range from too low to dangerously high.

Sasha: Let’s take a person suffering from a severe form of asthma. He has a CO2 shortage in his lungs and an excess of CO2 in his blood. Applying the Buteyko Method, this person reduces his air intake, thus gradually eliminating the shortage of CO2 in his lungs. What effect would it have on the CO2 level in his blood? According to what you’re saying, it will not increase, but rather reduce? Is this correct?

Dr. Novozhilov: This is correct. The lungs of a person suffering even from a severe form of asthma are not damaged completely, but only partially. Buteyko natural treatment for asthma will protect his or her lungs from any further damage. In addition, it will make the functioning of the uninjured areas more effective. This will improve the gas exchange process, making it more efficient. As a result, excess CO2 in the arterial blood will get removed faster, accelerating the improvement of his or her overall health.

Sasha: Let’s go back to the discussion of the goal of Dr. Buteyko’s natural treatment for asthma: restoring the CO2 level in the lungs to the medical norm. Why is this parameter essential for our health?

Dr. Novozhilov: CO2 shortage leads to oxygen deficiency in the body. It damages the nervous system and negatively affects the metabolic functions and the immune system. As a result, the body becomes less functional and can expire prematurely.

Sasha: Why is the body of an asthmatic not capable of maintaining CO2 at the normal level? Is it due to the disease called asthma?

Dr. Novozhilov: No, it is because of chronic hyperventilation. It is important to understand that Dr. Buteyko saw the human body as a self-regulating system. One of its main objectives is to maintain CO2 at the normal level. From this perspective, the key manifestation of asthma – the reversible airflow obstruction – is not a disease, but a compensatory reaction to the loss of CO2 caused by hyperventilation. By narrowing the air passages, the body is trying to force the person to breathe less, to prevent a further loss of CO2, which could be dangerous to survival.

Sasha: It seems that the main disagreement between the conventional medical approach and Dr. Buteyko’s approach lies in the interpretation of the meaning of the key manifestation of asthma – the narrowing of the air passages. Conventional medicine believes that this indicates that the asthmatic is not receiving enough air, and therefore has difficulties breathing. Because of that, traditional doctors often recommend that asthmatics breathe more and deeper. Buteyko-trained doctors read the same bodily message differently. For them, narrowing of the air passages indicates that asthmatics consume too much air, and that their bodies are trying to reduce this excessive air intake. Therefore Buteyko doctors recommend that asthmatics breathe less and breathe gentler.

Doctor Novozhilov: The hypothesis of insufficient air intake can be checked by measuring the lung ventilation of asthmatics. It is not scarce but, rather, excessive. An asthmatic’s lung ventilation exceeds the norm by at least 1.5-2 times, even more, when asthma symptoms become stronger, or during an attack. A healthy person consumes about 6 liters of air per minute, while an asthmatic pushes air through his or her lungs at a rate of 10-40 liters per minute. Once you recognize that hyperventilation is detrimental to overall health, it becomes clear that the reversible airflow obstruction in asthmatics plays a positive role. It is the body’s attempt to maintain homeostasis by forcing a reduction in breathing, in order to stop the loss of CO2.

Sasha: So, from Doctor Buteyko’s perspective the bronchial tubes narrow in order to force asthmatics to consume less air. By doing this, the body is trying to stop the loss of CO2 in the lungs, which is dangerous for life. How does Buteyko natural asthma treatment affect this process?

Doctor Novozhilov: By learning how to control and reduce their breathing, asthmatics start normalizing the gas exchange and the level of CO2 in their lungs. As this normalization progresses, the defense mechanisms against the loss of CO2 — which comprise all the well-known symptoms of asthma — are not needed anymore, and as a result, symptoms disappear. Thus, the application of the Buteyko method can lead to the complete elimination of asthma, as well as effective prevention of the disease.

Sasha: Now let’s talk about medication. The Buteyko Method is considered drug-free. Based on this, people often assume that Konstantin Buteyko was against any medication.

Doctor Novozhilov: This assumption is incorrect. The Buteyko Method helps asthmatics to reduce or eliminate hyperventilation. With the application of the method over time, asthmatic symptoms get reduced or eliminated, and as a result, the need for medication to control symptoms is gradually reduced and is eventually eliminated. Nevertheless, in some cases, steroid-based medication does need to be used, but only temporarily. Unlike conventional doctors who normally prescribe high dosages of steroids and long courses of treatment, Dr. Buteyko’s steroid treatment protocol allows for a significant reduction in dosage, and shortens the length of time that steroids are needed. This greatly lessens negative side effects and allows asthmatics to eventually become drug-free.

Sasha: I believe this is very important for any asthmatic! I have met parents of very young children whose doctors have told them that their sons and daughters have to stay on steroids for their whole lives. It’s terrifying for me to think how this long-term intake of hormones would affect their health!

Doctor Novozhilov: To take steroids or not? For how long? And when to stop taking them? These questions are essential for all asthmatics. Answers depend on the intensity of allergic inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Since the traditional medical treatment of asthma cannot stop allergic inflammation, doctors have no choice but to recommend to their patients a periodic and often long-term intake of steroids. This is the only way they can control asthma. But by normalizing the level of CO2 in the lungs, the Buteyko method can stop allergic inflammation and eliminate any possibility of its recurrence. The result is that steroids are never needed again. Speaking about children versus adults, the Buteyko Method normally helps children more quickly and more effectively than adults. Most children are capable of learning how to reduce their breathing during their first visit to our Clinica. Then, within one to two months of regular practice, children usually stop taking steroids because they stop experiencing symptoms.

Sasha: What do doctors in Clinica Buteyko Moscow think about bronco-dilating medication such as rescue inhalers? Following Buteyko’s rationale, the body of an asthmatic narrows air passages in order to maintain health. But at the same time, traditional doctors often recommend that asthmatics take medications, which widen air passages. Is this medication conducive to the eradication of asthma and overall improvement in health?

Doctor Novozhilov: Any medication which increases airflow to the lungs should be used only in emergency situations, such as when a suffocation attack has to be stopped swiftly. The regular use of bronchodilators while a person continues to hyperventilate causes narrowing of the air passages more often and more intensely, which increases the production of mucus, coughing and other symptoms. This happens because bronchodilators remove the body’s natural defense mechanism against hyperventilation, so the body has to work even harder to compensate.

Sasha: Perhaps we could say that bronchodilators disarm the asthmatic’s body, but the body does not want to give up, and it starts fighting for its own health more aggressively.

Doctor Novozhilov: We can say so. In order to maintain its homeostasis, the body has to utilize stronger defense mechanisms, which leads to a more severe form of asthma, and possibly even lung damage.Dr. Buteyko discovered through his research that prior to the widespread use of bronchodilators, asthma was considered a rare and rather mild ailment. By virtue of the periodic narrowing of the air passages, asthmatics were able to maintain adequate levels of CO2 in their lungs. So at that time people did not die from asthma. In fact, asthmatics were known for having long life spans and not experiencing any health problems besides asthma.

Sasha: Why is that?

Doctor Novozhilov: I’ve already explained that hyperventilation is harmful and can lead to death. To stop this process, the body of the asthmatic activates a variety of compensatory mechanisms. In earlier times, before the advent of bronchodilators, asthmatics were able to maintain adequate levels of CO2, and therefore the normal functions of metabolism and the immune system, so, besides asthma symptoms, they rarely experienced any other health issues. To understand this, it is important to recognize that asthmatics are not the only ones who experience hyperventilation. But compared to other people, asthmatics possess a unique compensatory mechanism — a periodic narrowing of air passages — which prevents the loss of vital CO2 and further deterioration of their health.

Sasha: What has changed in our modern world?

Doctor Novozhilov: Well, breathing patterns are greatly determined by lifestyle. Our contemporary lifestyle that is based on comfort, sedentariness, excessive eating, use of caffeine and sugar and drug intake supports hyperventilation. Because of that, asthma has become epidemic. Today, asthma is in the process of spreading throughout the world with a speed, which reminds me of the plague epidemics during the Middle Ages.At the same time, the widespread use of medication that defeats periodic narrowing of the airways has created the situation we have now, in which the deterioration of asthmatics’ health has become typical. Consequently, today people often die from asthma.

Sasha: What is a solution to this situation?

Doctor Novozhilov: The history of medicine reveals that a disease can be cured only when its cause is known. The Plague was eradicated only after the discovery of the pathogen causing it. This discovery made creation of a vaccine feasible, and thus saved Europe from extinction. Many scientific and medical laboratories are engaged in an ongoing effort to find an asthma cure. However, conventional medicine continues to state that asthma is incurable. What does this tell us? That conventional medicine does not know the cause of asthma. And here I am referring to the main cause of this disease, hyperventilation, the removal of which brings about the cure for an asthmatic and provides prevention. And of course, it was all the way back in the 1960s that Soviet doctor and physiologist Konstantin Buteyko announced that he had discovered the cause of asthma, and offered treatment to cure it.

Sasha: This being the case, why does conventional medicine not accept Doctor Buteyko’s discovery? Why is the Buteyko Method such an unusual story, when it comes to acceptance of great medical discoveries?

Doctor Novozhilov: Actually, the history of medical discoveries tells us the opposite: the Buteyko story is very typical! None of the significant discoveries made by doctors, geniuses of their times, were accepted right away by their colleagues. In fact, they were met with distrust and often ridiculed. One example is the brilliant discovery of the Austrian doctor Ignaz P. Semmelweis, who in the 19th century suggested that surgeons disinfect their hands prior to performing surgery. This was a revolutionary idea! At that time, surgeons would often assist a woman in labor right after examining a corpse – without washing their hands! Today, of course, this would be unimaginable. But back then, this was an unchallengeable medical routine. At that time, women in labor would regularly die from blood poisoning, but doctors were unable to understand the cause because the existence of microbes was unknown. Even though Semmelweis’ implementation of his ideas proved that his recommendations would reduce the death rate of these women by 80%, it was simply not enough for doctors to accept the idea of disinfection. They called Semmelweis’ revolutionary discovery quackery. His scientific work was not forgotten only because of the efforts of the relatives of pregnant women who began insisting that doctors wash their hands prior to helping with deliveries. Many years later, when the existence of microbes was proven via observations made through microscopes, conventional medicine finally accepted Semmelweis’ discovery and implemented it.

Sasha: Well, what do you say about that? Let’s hope that one day conventional medicine will also accept the revolutionary discovery of Dr. Buteyko!

Doctor Novozhilov: Every day, more people all over the world are finding out about his discovery and Buteyko natural remedy for asthma. Asthmatics reduce their breathing, and by doing so are able to reduce or even stop their asthma symptoms. The truth cannot be concealed! I have no doubts that sooner or later the Buteyko® Method will be accepted by conventional medicine.

Sasha: Let’s hope that it will happen soon since it would greatly improve health, and even save the lives of millions of adults and children suffering from asthma!

This interview and more information is available in Sasha’s book Breathe To Heal: Break Free From Asthma.


All rights reserved. This article cannot be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without written permission from Sasha Yakovleva or the Buteyko Breathing Center

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