Last month, we talked about food – specifically, how inflammatory diets fuel gum disease while anti-inflammatory diets tame it.
The typical American diet is the epitome of an inflammatory diet. It contains lots of sugars, refined grains, refined starches, processed meats, and especially hyper-processed foods (fast food, ready-made meals, and other foods that contain at least one ingredient that you wouldn’t find in the average home kitchen).
An anti-inflammatory diet, on the other hand, includes lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, beans and other legumes, lean meats, oily fish, whole grains, and healthy fats. Helping keep your gums healthy is just one of its benefits. Another? It can help improve apnea symptoms and even lower your risk of developing it in the first place.
The latter was the focus of an interesting study that came out last year in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Where most studies on diet and apnea have focused on calorie restriction – losing weight can help reduce sleep apnea – this one focused on diet quality, as well as healthy lifestyle habits.
Researchers analyzed data from over 14,000 participants from two waves of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They used this to determine scores for each on the Healthy Eating Index and Dietary Inflammatory Index – scores that were used to rate the quality of each participant’s diet.
Analyzing the data, the researchers found that apnea risk was higher for those whose diets were the most inflammatory. Those who ate the least inflammatory diets had the lowest risk.
This large community-based study shows that, irrespective of caloric intake, higher overall dietary quality and an anti-inflammatory diet are inversely associated with sleep apnea. In addition, an overall healthy lifestyle (higher diet quality, higher physical activity level, not smoking, and optimal alcohol consumption) is associated with reduced sleep apnea risk. This association differs by sex, with a stronger association in females. Several sensitivity analyses confirmed the robustness of these findings. This study underlines the potential benefit of improving overall diet quality and health behaviors beyond calorie restriction to support reductions in sleep apnea and the combined effects of OSA and poor diet and lifestyle habits on detrimental health consequences. Further, sex differences highlight that these more holistic lifestyle considerations are particularly important for women with sleep apnea risk, who have largely been overlooked in the sleep apnea literature to date. [emphasis added]
But what if you already have sleep apnea? Shifting to an anti-inflammatory diet can help here, too. A number of studies suggest that following a Mediterranean style of eating – one of the most common anti-inflammatory diets – can improve apnea symptoms. This is especially so when combined with things like being more physically active, improving sleep habits, and avoiding tobacco.
This is why, here in our Laguna Hills clinic, Dr. Abdulla doesn’t just suffice in oral appliance therapy for treating sleep apnea. She takes a holistic approach, considering all factors that might be feeding into a patient’s experience with apnea. Diet is the starting point but hardly the finishing line.
Taking this big-picture approach can pay real dividends, as one particularly intriguing case report shows.
It involved a middle aged man with a history of obstructive sleep apnea, as well as back issues for which he sought chiropractic care. At that point, he had been using CPAP for roughly 10 years. Despite the CPAP, he rarely got 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep, he said, and complained of daytime fatigue.
When the doctors presented the option of lifestyle management to improve the quality of his sleep, he accepted it. The primary focus was on switching to an anti-inflammatory diet and starting to exercise regularly. Eventually, some key nutritional supplements were included in his regimen, too.
The most tangible goal was weight loss, and the operational and mental goal was to promote an anti-inflammatory state with each meal and snack.
The patient’s very real nutritional improvements were bolstered by his increased level of physical fitness. Over the course of five years, he gradually progressed from a sedentary lifestyle to regular walking to weight training to jogging regularly.
All this time, his doctors monitored his apnea, as well as his weight and blood pressure.
Although the patient’s transition to a wellness lifestyle was gradual, it was the initial change that appeared to matter the most. Within three months, he had dropped 10 pounds, his blood pressure began to decline, and he no longer needed CPAP.
Furthermore, since that time, the patient has reported 6 to 8 hours of continuous sleep and feeling well rested upon waking; and according to the patient’s spouse, there were no more snoring or apnea episodes during the night.
We encourage you to go read the full case history, as these were hardly the only benefits that the patient experienced.
While such stories are inspiring, it’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to sleep apnea. If you’re struggling with the condition, it’s important that you work with an expert in sleep medicine who can identify the root cause and develop a custom plan for addressing it so you can get the good, restorative sleep you deserve. That plan may include oral appliance therapy in addition to nutrition and lifestyle changes, as well as addressing any nasal obstructions.
Effective sleep apnea solutions come from taking a holistic approach – the kind of approach that Dr. Abdulla prides herself in taking with each patient, treating the individual and not just symptoms.