Diet and the Buteyko Method

"We are what we eat" is not only an old saying, but a very true one. Therefore, foods are often one of the first things considered as you try to work out why you have poor health, or strange symptoms.

Professor Buteyko, considered this too when he developed his breathing techniques and linked a number of foods as triggers for an abnormal breathing pattern.

He found that eating anything increases the breathing, and when breathing becomes even mildly excessive, the symptoms of hyperventilation are more likely to appear. So if your symptoms are aggravated shortly after mealtime, this is probably why.

Doctor Buteyko also found that eating cooked food increases your breathing more than eating raw food, and eating easily-digested protein increases it most of all. Easily digested protein includes things such as seafood, cottage cheese and soup that is made with an animal-based stock.

So why does breathing too much or low-grade hyperventilation affect your digestion?

There are a number of factors involved between hyperventilation and digestion, which include:

1. Hyperventilation causes a state of respiratory alkalosis that limits the production of hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid is vital for us to receive the goodness from food because it not only breaks down what is ingested in the stomach, but it also stimulates the production of bile and enzymes that help release nutrients.

Food that has not been properly broken down due to the lack of hydrochloric acid now moves deeper into the digestive tract where minute particles can pass into the blood stream. Unfortunately, because they have not been digested properly some of these particles are not in the correct format and the immune system attacks them, creating an intolerance to these foods. When a more normal breathing pattern is restored, hydrochloric acid is produced in sufficient quantities, and these food sensitivities start to disappear.

2. This can lead to food particles passing into the blood in a state that the body is not used to, which leads to food intolerances.
3. Respiratory alkalosis causes the kidneys to dump bicarbonate ions, and when it does this it drags along minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphates.
4. Hyperventilation causes the body to become stressed, and whenever we are stressed we switch on the fight or flight response to some degree. When the fight or flight response is activated, less blood flows to the stomach and digestion slows, allowing food to remain longer than it should in the digestive tract. This enables unfriendly bacteria to grow more strongly.
5. Smooth or involuntary muscles that surround the digestive tract tighten when carbon dioxide is lowered by hyperventilation. This impedes the natural peristalsis that moves ingested food through the digestive tract.

Personal story
"When I was in my teens I developed sinus and hay fever problems. Then in my early twenties I began to suffer from eczema as well, and around the same time every few weeks or so I would have nausea, stomach bloating and pain.

"I began to pay more attention to what I was eating and drinking because I thought that this was the cause of my problems, and noticed that drinking wine made my nose block and run more than usual. I also worked out that some of the extreme bloating and pain occurred after eating fatty foods, like chicken skin or pork crackling. I eliminated these things from my diet, but unfortunately I then noticed that bread and garlic seemed to give me grief, and so they had to go as well. Tomatoes were the next on the list, and then oranges, and so it continued as I tried to find the balance between having a normal life while trying to eliminate the itching, nose blowing and bloating that was driving me mad!

"Eventually someone told me that the Buteyko method would fix my nose, so I decided to try that since none of the hay fever medications seems to even come close to helping it, and to my great surprise, within two weeks my nose started clearing up. But not only did the nose settle down, my itching started disappearing too. Within a month or so I found that I could drink a glass of wine without any problem, and chicken was back on the menu. Today, I love eating spaghetti bolognaise and never have the least bit of pain with it.

"I never expected these things to happen because it never occurred to me that my breathing could affect my stomach. But it's like the Buteyko practitioner tells you: 'breathing affects your whole body'. Once you start breathing properly, the rest of your body seems to work better too." Joy

The Buteyko rule is easy to remember: eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you have had enough. This sounds simple enough, but social occasions often cause us to eat out of politeness; and boredom, stress, or fatigue often stimulate the appetite as a distraction. Perhaps then the best advice is that while trying to maintain a well-balanced diet, aim to eat lightly, and perhaps avoid large meals, and the eating of cooked food and easily digested proteins sparingly

  • When you are unwell
  • Before bedtime
  • When you feel a little wheezy, tight-chested, or short of breath
  • Before an important meeting, such as a job interview or a presentation.

Professor Buteyko also recommended the regular use of unprocessed, fully mineralised sea salt in cooking to help replenish the minerals that are washed out of the system through hyperventilation. Celtic sea salt is a typical source of this kind of salt.