Buteyko and Medication

This is another area where a trained doctor is needed. I certainly cannot give advice on medication; however, I can inform you about Dr.Buteyko’s general approach to it.

As you already know, from his perspective, many symptoms are nothing but a compensatory reaction generated by the body to restore its natural balance. Symptom removal empowers the cause of the problem – over-breathing – and its negative effects penetrate all bodily systems deeper. Here is a letter that was written by Dr. Buteyko where he used asthma as an example to demonstrate this thought:

“Two hundred years ago, asthma was considered a mild ailment. Having asthma generally meant having a long life free of other diseases. But, no one could explain how asthma prevented other ailments or why asthmatics lived longer than others. Today, we know that asthma is not an ordinary disease. Bronchospasm, the main component of asthma, acts as a protective mechanism, helping to maintain biological constants and important functions at near-normal levels. We have also learned that asthma or bronchospasm cannot exist unless the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the lungs is abnormally low. Since the metabolic and immune systems can function correctly only if the CO2 level is normal, preserving the level of CO2 protects an asthmatic and allows for long and healthy life. It is this powerful defense mechanism that provides the asthmatic with an improved biological system. Evidently, bronchospasm is one way the body has adopted to its environment.
Modern drug treatment for asthma is aimed at neutralizing this protective mechanism. The organism then fights back again and again with more intensive bronchospasms, leading to rapid health deterioration from drug treatment. It is not possible to cure asthma by removing a protective mechanism like the bronchospasm. Only when the condition responsible for the bronchospasm is removed can asthma be reversed.” 

Today, in the US, asthma is considered an epidemic. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, “Asthma is the most common chronic disease of childhood. In the United States, it is estimated that nearly 5 million youngsters under age 18 have this disease. In 1993 alone, asthma was the reason for almost 200,000 hospital stays and about 340 deaths among persons under age 25. The number of young people and children with asthma is rising. In children ages 5-14 years, the rate of death from asthma almost doubled between 1980 and 1993. Also, every day in America 40,000 people miss school or work due to asthma; 30,000 people have an asthma attack; 5,000 people visit the emergency room due to asthma; 1,000 people are admitted to the hospital due to asthma; 11 people die from asthma.”

For many people, it is hard to find a compromise between doctors’ suggestions and Buteyko’s recommendations. I hope that the following information will help you.

The first step is to get to know your symptoms and develop the ability to recognize them as they appear. For me, it means becoming more familiar with my body and increasing my physical awareness. Of course, many people are conscious of their strongest symptoms since they produce great discomfort but are unaware of the more subtle ones, or consider them normal. I often recommend my students immerse into the body and create a list of all their symptoms before they start a breathing practice. Often, the length of this list becomes shockingly long for them and demonstrates that the body desperately needs healing. 

When you know your symptoms, you can start working with them. You don’t need to do anything about the light ones, unless you receive specific recommendations from your doctor. Just keep track of them and, most likely, you will see them disappearing when your PMP gets closer to normal. The tactic for resolving strong symptoms, for instance, asthma attacks, kidney pain or palpitations, is different. You need to apply a breathing exercise the moment a symptom appears. Try it for five or ten minutes and see what happens. If the symptom lessens, continue doing the exercise until it is completely gone. If your attempt to lessen the symptom is unsuccessful, use your medication to stop it, especially if it’s life-threatening.

This approach will assist you in developing control over your symptoms, bringing you a sense of liberation from the fear of sudden symptoms. For many people, especially asthmatics, this feels like a wave of fresh air.

Many people assume that if you practice this method, you don’t need to take any medication. This assumption is incorrect.  Buteyko’s recommendation to asthmatics was to carry their rescue inhaler even many years after they have had their last asthma attack in case of emergency. Your health should be monitored by a doctor and your medication should be adjusted in accordance with the improvement of your health. Also, keep in mind that breathing reduction makes metabolism more active, therefore your medication could generate a stronger effect; it’s a good idea to inform your doctor about this. Dr. Buteyko was not against medication, as many people think, but he was careful with it. He used breathing as a litmus test to check the effect of medication on overall health. He found out that some types of medication have a positive effect while others are harmful for health and should not be taken casually. I know, you probably think, “Well, any doctor would tell you this!” It’s true and yet this principle is often not implemented in medical practice.

As we learned from Dr. Novozhilov, two or more courses of antibiotics, for example, could offset breathing and cause breathlessness. In fact, I believe, this happened to Thomas: his asthma trouble greatly intensified after he had taken several courses of antibiotics. In our Center we often meet people whose breathing difficulties arose after having taken this medication. I grew up in the Soviet Union where doctors used to prescribe anti-bio-tics very carefully, only when their usage was unavoidable. At that time, medicine was non-commercial, doctors’ services were free and their work was unrelated to money. Even though this system had plenty of problems, it was less linked to pharmaceutical companies than in the US and was more concerned with preventative care than curative care. In America, where medical services are a form of business, it is hard for doctors to make money preventing a disease but easy by treating it. I believe, this should be taken into consideration. When I moved to the United States, I was shocked to discover that antibiotics were frequently given here (even to children!), whenever a person experienced any kind of infection.

I’d like to tell you a story about a little girl I used to work with. She was brought to Breathing Center by her parents who were concerned about her mild asthma. Anny’s main symptom was wheezing, besides this she would often get sick with various respiratory issues. Her parents told me that recently she had taken several courses of antibiotics, which made me think that this medication deepened her breathing. When I looked at Anny and measured her breathing, the situation did not look bad – I assumed that it would be easy to improve it through breathing exercises. I failed to help her to the degree I expected. Two months later, Anny was much calmer, which was obvious to her parents and even her teachers in school. Her allergies seemed to subside; however, she was still wheezing and would often catch colds.

I thought the main obstacle to her recovery was the amount of medication she was constantly given. When we began our program, she caught the flu again and received another dose of antibiotics, which was repeated later. Doctors also put her on preventative drugs, trying to combat against asthma and allergies symptoms; and every time her wheezing would act up, she would use a rescue inhaler. Her mother had an interest in natural remedies, so on top of all chemical drugs, Anny was given many types of natural medication. Considering the amount of medicine she was given, I would think that her body needed a cleansing reaction to get rid of all toxins. Unfortunately, when it tried to manifest, its symptoms were immediately shot by drugs. On one hand, Anny was practicing breathing reduction, on another hand, she was taking many chemical and natural solutions to open her lungs and deepen her breathing. Sadly, her parents were not disciplined when it came to their daughter’s breathing exercises and therefore their daughter was not able to overcome an obstacle caused by medication. Anny is still suffering from asthma.

It was not in my power to change Anny’s situation since I didn’t have the right to advise her about medication. I was astounded to observe the actions of Anny’s parents, which worked against the belief system, I formed even before becoming a Buteyko Breathing Method specialist. My own daughter was born unhealthy and yet she grew up disease and drug-free. From my perspective, it is only natural for children to have some light ailments (for example, cold): in fact, the immune system needs ailments to build its strength. I was curious about the motivation for giving a child so many drugs and eventually decided to talk to Anny’s parents. I discovered that medication was often given to Anny in order to avoid an upset of the family’s routine as well as to assist her in achieving goals, which have been present for her. This little child simply could not afford to spend a couple of weeks in bed: missing school was a problem for her grades as well as her parents’ daily arrangements. She had to continue with her chorus engagements since she was expected to become a singer (Anny has a beautiful voice); her parents were also hesitant to keep her away from sports since they hoped that it would help her get accepted into college. It seemed to me that Anny’s carefree childhood was replaced with busyness and stress, which made a significant contribution to the deterioration of her health.

It took me a while to accept the idea that the most difficult people to heal are those who have no symptoms at all. According to doctors at Clinica Buteyko, they often end up having cancer. Dr. Buteyko called asthmatics “lucky” since their symptoms, such as coughing or suffocation attacks, terminate hyperventilation at the very first level of the respiratory system. If over-breathing is not stopped there, the body will still attempt to save CO2 by creating a more complex reaction. If a person’s body does not produce any defense mechanisms, there is no protection from hyperventilation and, as a result, a person might develop severe dysfunctions leading to serious, even fatal, diseases. From Dr. Novozhilov’s perspective, “the best patients” are the ones with powerful symptoms and “the most difficult” ones are without any. 

Since many people who are ill take steroid-based medication, I believe, it is also important to inform you on Buteyko’s thoughts about this topic. He found that steroids make people breathe less and could be effectively used to assist the breathing reduction process when necessary. If a person’s CP is 5 seconds, it often jumps to 10-15 seconds after a steroid intake. Many people try to avoid taking steroids in favor of bronchodilators or other types of medication, which removes spasmodic reactions, but Dr. Buteyko disagreed with this approach.  From his perspective, it should be the other way around since steroids are conducive to the reduction of air consumption while the other types of medication increase it.

Unfortunately, for severely ill people it is sometimes difficult to improve breathing without steroids. When Thomas was receiving his treatment at Clinica Buteyko, Dr. Novozhilov advised him to reduce the usage of his rescue inhalers and start taking prednisone instead. This helped Thomas greatly by weakening his symptoms and offering him some time to strengthen his breathing to the point where he could work on his symptoms without drugs. When breathing is improved, steroids are normally reduced and eventually eliminated. Unfortunately, some severely ill people, especially those who have been taking steroids for years, are not able to become drug-free; however, the breathing exercises minimize their dosage of steroid-based medication.

The two biggest downsides with steroids are their side-effects and that people develop a dependence on them. To prevent these problems, Dr. Buteyko created a specific protocol, which is described in detail in Dr. Novozhilov’s book Buteyko Breathing Manual. Here, I will just briefly summarize Buteyko’s approach regarding steroids, which could be called “as needed.” Normally, steroids are prescribed without consideration of a person’s day-to-day health. Usually, doctors suggest a certain dosage to start off with and then ask that it be reduced in a month, or two weeks, but in reality, a person’s health varies every day: one day he or she might feel terrible and needs a considerable dose of steroids, while another day a person might feel well enough to be without them. Dr. Buteyko developed specific recommendations on how to determine the amount of steroids needed on a daily basis. This procedure allows taking the minimum dose and thus prevents the natural production of hormones from decreasing.

Of course, Buteyko Breathing Method specialists don’t advise on medication. We simply improve breathing and health.

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