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Buteyko: the dangerous truth about the new celebrity breathing sensation


Name: Buteyko.

Age: Seventy-ish.

Ish? It was developed in the Soviet Union by Konstantin Buteyko in the 1940s and 50s.

Great. But what is it? A method of breath control. Dr Buteyko, an engineer turned medic, noticed that when people were ill their breathing rates increased and they started hyperventilating. He reasoned that the reverse might apply, and that if they controlled their breathing, it might be good for their wellbeing. Borrowing techniques from yoga, he developed the Buteyko method of controlled breathing, which has adherents all over the world.

Including, let me guess, Gwyneth Paltrow. Maybe, but the celebrity I had in mind was the Indonesian singer Andien, who caused a minor sensation when she posted photographs on Instagram of her and her family, including her two-year-old son, with tape over their mouths.

A minor sensation. Well, she does have 1.6 million followers on Instagram.

Why were their mouths taped up? To encourage breathing through the nose, which is one of the key tenets of Buteyko. Andien says it has improved her sleeping, stopped her mouth getting dry and got rid of bad breath.

Sleeping with your mouth taped up sounds dangerous. Indeed. Many doctors argue it is a ridiculous thing to do, since if you started vomiting there would be a good chance you would choke. As for taping a child’s mouth, that is reckless in the extreme.

Is there anything in Buteyko? Adherents claim that by normalising your breathing, it counteracts asthma and other respiratory complaints and reduces coughing and wheezing. According to the NHS, however, there is little evidence to suggest the practice will help treat asthma. Fans also say that, by combating sleep apnoea, Buteyko can help with depression, attention deficit disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Why are they so obsessed by breathing through the nose? They claim the air is moistened and warmed, making it easier for it to enter the lungs, regularising the intake of oxygen and the loss of carbon dioxide, stopping your airways getting inflamed, alleviating hyperventilation and guaranteeing a good night’s sleep.

What does the medical establishment think? It is distinctly unimpressed. Prof Nirmal Kumar, the president of ENT (ear, nose and throat) UK told the BBC there was “no convincing body of evidence in the medical literature to support this treatment”. Doctors admit breathing exercises can help with symptoms, but say that claims Buteyko can treat a host of other medical disorders are unsupported by any evidence.

Not to be confused with: Subbuteo.

Do say: “Breathe through the nose.”

Don’t say: “Pay through the nose.”

Source: TheGuardian