The Buteyko techniques (known in Russia as ‘Voluntary Elimination of Deep Breathing’) are treatments to control respiration developed by the Russian Konstantin Buteyko (1923–2003). Inspired by the methods of respiratory control in yoga, the original Buteyko technique was specifically aimed at easing the symptoms of respiratory conditions, particularly asthma. Konstantin Buteyko postulated that there is a connection between hyperventilation and asthma and that it should be possible to reduce asthma symptoms by deliberate breath control.
The Eucapnic Buteyko method is an adaptation of Buteyko’s original technique which was first introduced in Australia and is now used worldwide. It includes the same focus on ventilation control, but the approach has been re-designed with the aim of achieving better patient-compliance. Both treatments and further variations depend crucially on the cooperation of the patient who has to attend long sessions of learning the technique and must follow the somewhat tedious programme rigorously.
A Cochrane review of Buteyko and similar breathing techniques concluded that “there is no credible evidence regarding the effectiveness of breathing exercises for the clinical symptoms of dysfunctional breathing/hyperventilation syndrome. It is currently unknown whether these interventions offer any added value in this patient group or whether specific types of breathing exercise demonstrate superiority over others.”
Now, a new study adds to this knowledge. This randomized clinical trial included two groups (n = 30 each) of patients with asthma. They received either:
- Buteyko breathing technique (BBT) together with usual therapy (UT)
- or UT alone over a period of 3 months.
The primary outcome comprised the voluntary control pause (CP) after 3 months, secondary outcomes an additional breathhold parameter, forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1), capnovolumetry, exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO), Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ) and Nijmegen Questionnaire (NQ), and the use of medication (β2-agonists; inhaled corticosteroids, ICS).
CP showed significant time-by-group interaction [F(1,58.09) = 28.70, p < 0.001] as well as main effects for study group [F(1,58.27) = 5.91, p = 0.018] and time [F(1,58.36) = 17.67, p < 0.001]. ACQ and NQ scores were significantly (p < 0.05 each) improved with BBT. This was associated with reductions in the use of β2-agonists and ICS (p < 0.05 each) by about 20% each. None of these effects occurred in the UT group. While FEV1 and the slopes of the capnovolumetric expiratory phases 2 and 3 did not significantly change, the capnovolumetric threshold volume at tidal breathing increased (p < 0.05) with BBT by about 10 mL or 10%, compared to baseline, suggesting a larger volume of the central airways. No significant changes were seen for FeNO.
The authors concluded that BBT was clinically effective, as indicated by the fact that the improvement in symptom scores and the small increase in bronchial volume occurred despite the significant reduction of respiratory pharmacotherapy. As the self-controlled Buteyko breathing therapy was well-accepted by the participants, it could be considered as supporting tool in asthma therapy being worth of wider attention in clinical practice.
I disagree with this conclusion and think it ought to be changed to:
BBT or a placebo effect was clinically effective.
The reason is that, as many readers have heard me say before, the infamous A+B versus B design does not control for placebo effects and thus is guaranteed to produce a positive result.
The research was conducted by an international team evidently led by the relatively new ARCIM Institute which claims on its website:
The acronym ARCIM stands for Academic Research in Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
The bridging between different treatment and research approaches, disciplines and ways of thinking achieved by the research work of the ARCIM Institute can be symbolized by our logo’s bridge arch. ARCIM integrates this bridge-building metaphor within its name since the Latin term “arcus” means “arch” or “bridge.”
I was fascinated to find a chiropractor who proudly listed ‘the most common conditions chiropractors help kids with‘:
- Vision problems
- Skin conditions
- Sinus problems
- Loss of hearing
- Ear Infections
- Hip, leg, or foot pain
- Poor coordination
- Breastfeeding difficulties
- Arm, hand, or shoulder pain
- Anxiety and nervousness
The birth process, even under normal conditions, is frequently the first cause of spinal stress. After the head of the child appears, the physician grabs the baby’s head and twists it around in a figure eight motion, lifting it up to receive the lower shoulder and then down to receive the upper shoulder. This creates significant stress on the spine of the baby.
“Spinal cord and brain stem traumas often occur during the process of birth but frequently escape diagnosis. Infants often experience lasting neurological defects. Spinal trauma at birth is essentially attributed to longitudinal traction, especially when this force is combined with flexion and torsion of the spinal axis during delivery.” ~Abraham Towbin, MD
Growth patterns suggest the potential for neurological disorders is most critical from birth to two years of age, as this time is the most dynamic and important phase of postnatal brain development. Over sixty percent of all neurological development occurs after birth in the child’s first year of life. This is why it is so important to bring your child to a local pediatric chiropractor to have them checked and for your child to get a chiropractic adjustment during the first year of their life. Lee Hadley MD states “Subluxation alone is a rational reason for Pediatric Chiropractic care throughout a lifetime from birth.”
As our children continue to grow, the daily stresses can have a negative impact on an ever growing body. During the first few years of life, an infant often falls while learning to walk or can fall while tumbling off a bed or other piece of furniture. Even the seemingly innocent act of playfully tossing babies up in the air and catching them often results in a whiplash-like trauma to the spine, making it essential to get your baby checked by a pediatric chiropractor every stage of his/her development as minor injuries can present as major health concerns down the road if gone uncorrected.
On the Internet, similar texts can be found by the hundreds. I am sure that many new parents are sufficiently impressed by them to take their kids to a chiropractor. I have yet to hear of a single case where the chiropractor then checked out the child and concluded: “there is nothing wrong; your baby does not need any therapy.” Chiropractors always find something – not something truly pathological, but something to mislead the parent and to earn some money.
Often the treatment that follows turns out to be a prolonged and thus expensive series of sessions that almost invariably involve manipulating the infant’s fragile and developing spine. There is no compelling evidence that this approach is effective for anything. In addition, there is evidence that it can do harm, sometimes even serious harm.
And that’s the reason why I have mentioned this topic before and intend to continue doing so in the future:
- There is hardly a good reason for adults to consult a chiropractor.
- There is no reason to take a child to a chiropractor.
- There are good reasons for chiropractors to stop treating children.
But let’s be a bit more specific. Let’s deal with the above list of indications on the basis of the reliable evidence:
- Vision problems – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Skin conditions – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Bedwetting – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Sinus problems – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- ADD/ADHD – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Stomachaches – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Asthma – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Allergies – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Loss of hearing – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Ear Infections – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Hip, leg, or foot pain – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Constipation – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Poor coordination – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Breastfeeding difficulties – no good evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Arm, hand, or shoulder pain – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Anxiety and nervousness – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Colic – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Scoliosis – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
I rest my case.
I recently looked at the list of best-sellers in homeopathy on Amazon. To my surprise, there were several books that were specifically focused on the homeopathic treatment of children. Since we had, several years ago, published a systematic review of this subject, these books interested me. Here is what Amazon tells us about them:
Homeopathic remedies are increasingly being used to treat common childhood ailments. They are safe, have no side effects or allergic reactions, are inexpensive and, above all, effective. In this guide, Dana Ullman explains what homeopathy is, how it works and how you can use it correctly to enhance your child’s health. He recommends remedies for more than 75 physical and emotional conditions, including: allergies, grief, anxiety, headaches, asthma, measles, bedwetting, nappy rash, bites and stings, shock, burns, sunburn, colic, teething, coughs and colds and travel sickness
Without doubt, this is the most comprehensive book on homeopathic pediatrics. Included is a complete guide to the correct use of homeopathy, recommended remedies for the treatment of more than seventy-five common physical, emotional, and behavioral conditions, and valuable information on the essential medicines that all parents should have in their home medicine kits
Tricia Allen, a qualified homeopath, offers a host of practical advice on how to treat illness using natural, homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy differs from conventional medicine in that it does not only alleviate the individual symptoms of an illness, but treats the underlying state to ensure that the disease does not return, something which rarely occurs when using traditional remedies. This guide gives you advice on; what homeopathy is and how to use it; each stage of childhood and how to deal with the complaints that occur at that time of a child’s development; the most common childhood illnesses, how to take your own steps to treating them, which homeopathic remedies to use and when to seek medical help and first aid.
The Homeopathic Treatment of Children is indispensible at giving both a clear overall impression of the various major constitutional types, and also a detailed outline for reference at the end of each chapter. Not only does Paul Herscu draw from various sources (repertories and materia medica), he also adds indispensable original information from his successful practice.
The fact that such books exist is perhaps not all that surprising. Yet, I do find the fact that they are among the best-selling books on homeopathy surprising – or to be more precise, I find it concerning.
Simple: children cannot give informed consent to the treatments they receive. Thus, consent is given for them by their parents or (I suspect often) not at all. This renders homeopathic treatment of children more problematic than that of fully competent adults.
Homeopathy has not been shown to be effective for any pediatric condition. I know Dana Ullman disagrees and claims it works for children’s allergies, grief, anxiety, headaches, asthma, measles, bedwetting, nappy rash, bites and stings, shock, burns, sunburn, colic, teething, coughs and colds, and travel sickness. Yet, these claims are not based on anything faintly resembling sound evidence! Our above-mentioned systematic review reached the following conclusion: “The evidence from rigorous clinical trials of any type of therapeutic or preventive intervention testing homeopathy for childhood and adolescence ailments is not convincing enough for recommendations in any condition.”
And what follows from this state of affairs?
I am afraid it is this:
Treating sick children with homeopathy amounts to child abuse.
Today is WORLD ASTHMA DAY, a good opportunity perhaps to revisit a few of our own evaluations of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for asthma. Here are the abstracts of some of our systematic reviews on the subject:
Objective: The objective of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness of yoga as a treatment option for asthma.
Method: Seven databases were searched from their inception to October 2010. Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) and non-randomized clinical trials (NRCTs) were considered, if they investigated any type of yoga in patients with asthma. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers.
Results: Six RCTs and one NRCT met the inclusion criteria. Their methodological quality was mostly poor. Three RCTs and one NRCT suggested that yoga leads to a significantly greater reduction in spirometric measures, airway hyperresponsivity, dose of histamine needed to provoke a 20% reduction in forced expiratory volume in the first second, weekly number of asthma attacks, and need for drug treatment. Three RCTs showed no positive effects compared to various control interventions.
Conclusions: The belief that yoga alleviates asthma is not supported by sound evidence. Further, more rigorous trials are warranted.
Some clinicians believe that spinal manipulation is an effective treatment for asthma. The aim of this systematic review was to critically evaluate the evidence for or against this claim. Four electronic databases were searched without language restrictions from their inceptions to September 2008. Bibliographies and departmental files were hand-searched. The methodological quality of all included studies was assessed with the Jadad score. Only randomised clinical trials of spinal manipulation as a treatment of asthma were included. Three studies met these criteria. All of them were of excellent methodological quality (Jadad score 5) and all used sham-manipulation as the control intervention. None of the studies showed that real manipulation was more effective than sham-manipulation in improving lung function or subjective symptoms. It is concluded that, according to the evidence of the most rigorous studies available to date, spinal manipulation is not an effective treatment for asthma.
Contradictory results from randomised controlled trials of acupuncture in asthma suggest both a beneficial and detrimental effect. The authors conducted a formal systematic review and meta-analysis of all randomised clinical trials in the published literature that have compared acupuncture at real and placebo points in asthma patients. The authors searched for trials published in the period 1970-2000. Trials had to measure at least one of the following objective outcomes: peak expiratory flow rate, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity. Estimates of the standarised mean difference, between acupuncture and placebo were computed for each trial and combined to estimate the overall effect. Hetereogeneity was investigated in terms of the characteristics of the individual studies. Twelve trials met the inclusion criteria but data from one could not be obtained. Individual patient data were available in only three. Standardised differences between means ranging from 0.071 to 0.133, in favour of acupuncture, were obtained. The overall effect was not conventionally significant and it corresponds to an approximate difference in FEV1 means of 1.7. After exploring hetereogenenity, it was found that studies where bronchoconstriction was induced during the experiment showed a conventionally significant effect. This meta-analysis did not find evidence of an effect of acupuncture in reducing asthma. However, the meta-analysis was limited by shortcomings of the individual trials, in terms of sample size, missing information, adjustment of baseline characteristics and a possible bias against acupuncture introduced by the use of placebo points that may not be completely inactive. There was a suggestion of preferential publication of trials in favour of acupuncture. There is an obvious need to conduct a full-scale randomised clinical trial addressing these limitations and the prognostic value of the aetiology of the disease.
Background: Emotional stress can either precipitate or exacerbate both acute and chronic asthma. There is a large body of literature available on the use of relaxation techniques for the treatment of asthma symptoms. The aim of this systematic review was to determine if there is any evidence for or against the clinical efficacy of such interventions.
Methods: Four independent literature searches were performed on Medline, Cochrane Library, CISCOM, and Embase. Only randomised clinical trials (RCTs) were included. There were no restrictions on the language of publication. The data from trials that statistically compared the treatment group with that of the control were extracted in a standardised predefined manner and assessed critically by two independent reviewers.
Results: Fifteen trials were identified, of which nine compared the treatment group with the control group appropriately. Five RCTs tested progressive muscle relaxation or mental and muscular relaxation, two of which showed significant effects of therapy. One RCT investigating hypnotherapy, one of autogenic training, and two of biofeedback techniques revealed no therapeutic effects. Overall, the methodological quality of the studies was poor.
Conclusions: There is a lack of evidence for the efficacy of relaxation therapies in the management of asthma. This deficiency is due to the poor methodology of the studies as well as the inherent problems of conducting such trials. There is some evidence that muscular relaxation improves lung function of patients with asthma but no evidence for any other relaxation technique.
Background: Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in modern society and there is increasing evidence to suggest that its incidence and severity are increasing. There is a high prevalence of usage of complementary medicine for asthma. Herbal preparations have been cited as the third most popular complementary treatment modality by British asthma sufferers. This study was undertaken to determine if there is any evidence for the clinical efficacy of herbal preparations for the treatment of asthma symptoms.
Methods: Four independent literature searches were performed on Medline, Pubmed, Cochrane Library, and Embase. Only randomised clinical trials were included. There were no restrictions on the language of publication. The data were extracted in a standardised, predefined manner and assessed critically.
Results: Seventeen randomised clinical trials were found, six of which concerned the use of traditional Chinese herbal medicine and eight described traditional Indian medicine, of which five investigated Tylophora indica. Three other randomised trials tested a Japanese Kampo medicine, marihuana, and dried ivy leaf extract. Nine of the 17 trials reported a clinically relevant improvement in lung function and/or symptom scores.
Conclusions: No definitive evidence for any of the herbal preparations emerged. Considering the popularity of herbal medicine with asthma patients, there is urgent need for stringently designed clinically relevant randomised clinical trials for herbal preparations in the treatment of asthma.
Breathing techniques are used by a large proportion of asthma sufferers. This systematic review was aimed at determining whether or not these interventions are effective. Four independent literature searches identified six randomized controlled trials. The results of these studies are not uniform. Collectively the data imply that physiotherapeutic breathing techniques may have some potential in benefiting patients with asthma. The safety issue has so far not been addressed satisfactorily. It is concluded that too few studies have been carried out to warrant firm judgements. Further rigorous trials should be carried out in order to redress this situation.
So, if you suffer from asthma, my advice is to stay away from SCAM. This might be easier said than done because SCAM practitioners are only too willing to lure asthma patients into their cult. In 2003, we have demonstrated this phenomenon by conducting a survey with chiropractors. Here is our short paper in full:
Classic chiropractic theory claims that vertebral subluxation blocks the flow of ‘‘innate intelligence’’ which, in turn, affects the health of asthma patients (1). Chiropractictors often use spinal manipulation (SM) to correct such malalignments and treat asthma (2). Several clinical trials of chiropractic SM exist, but the most rigorous ones are clearly negative (3,4). Chronic medication with corticosteroids can lead to osteoporosis, a condition, which is a contra-indication to chiropractic SM (5). Given this background, we aimed to determine whether chiropractors would advise an asthma patient on long-term corticosteroids (5 years) to try chiropractic as a treatment for this condition.
All 350 e-mail addresses listed at www.interadcom.com/chiro/html were randomised into two groups. A (deceptive) letter from a (fictitious) patient was sent to group A while group B was asked for advice on chiropractic treatment for asthma as part of a research project. Thus, groups A and B were asked the same question in di¡erent contexts: is chiropractic safe and e¡ective for an asthma patient on long-term steroids. After data collection, respondents from group A were informed that the e-mail had been part of a research project.
Of 97 e-mails in group A, we received 31 responses (response rate = 32% (95% CI, 0.23^ 0.41)). Seventy-four per cent (23 respondents) recommended visiting a chiropractor (95% CI, 0.59^ 0.89). Thirty-five per cent (11 respondents) mentioned minimal or no adverse effects of SM (95% CI, 0.18 ^ 0.52). Three chiropractors responded that some adverse e¡ects exist, e.g. risk of bone fracture, or stroke. Two respondents noted that other investigations (X-rays, spinal and neurological examination) were required before chiropractic treatment. Three respondents suggested additional treatments and one warned about a possible connection between asthma and the measles vaccine. Of 77 e-mails sent to group B, we received 16 responses (response rate = 21% (95% CI, 0.17^ 0.25)). Eleven respondents (69%) recommended visiting a chiropractor (95% CI, 0.46 ^ 0.91). Ten respondents mentioned minimal or no adverse effects of SM (95% CI, 0.39^ 0.87). Five chiropractors responded that adverse effects of SM exist (e.g. bone fracture). Five respondents suggested pre-testing the patient to check bone density, allergy, diet, exercise level, hydration and blood. Additional treatments were recommended by three respondents. The pooled results of groups A and B suggested that the majority of chiropractors recommend chiropractic treatment for asthma and the minority mention any adverse effects.
Our results demonstrate that chiropractic advice on asthma therapy is as readily available over the Internet as it is likely to be misleading. The majority of respondents from both groups (72%) recommended chiropractic treatment. This usually entails SM, a treatment modality which has been demonstrated to be ineffective in rigorous clinical trials (3,4,6). The advice may also be dangerous: the minority of the respondents of both groups (17%) caution of the risk of bone fracture. Our findings also suggest that, for the research question asked, a degree of deception is necessary. The response rate in group B was 12% lower than that of group A, and the answers received differed considerably between groups. In group A, 10% acknowledged the possibility of adverse e¡ects, this figure was 33% in group B. In conclusion, chiropractors readily provide advice regarding asthma treatment, which is often not evidence-based and has the potential to put patients at risk.
As I stated above: if you suffer from asthma, my advice is to
stay away from SCAM.