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Vegetarian Diet for Sleep Apnea

ERJ Open Research

It’s no secret that a plant-based diet offers nearly unlimited health benefits. Research shows that a vegetarian or vegan diet can lower body mass index, blood sugar, and cholesterol, as well as the risk of heart disease and overall mortality rates. While anyone can benefit, a plant-based diet is especially helpful for people suffering from some of the most common chronic health issues found in America, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

But can a vegetarian diet really cure snoring? That’s what a team of scientists led by Yohannes Melaku, PhD, of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, set out to discover. Their results were published in February in the journal ERJ Open Research.


The Study

Melaku’s study is one of the first large-scale analyses to investigate the correlation between plant-based diets and risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition marked by loud snoring. More than just an annoyance, however, OSA can cause people to stop breathing and wake up several times during the night, causing not only exhaustion, but also a greater risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

According to Melaku, previous research focused mainly on the impact of calorie restriction and weight loss, rather than how overall dietary patterns might affect OSA risk. “With this study, we wanted to address that gap and explore the association between different types of plant-based diets and the risk of OSA,” he said.

To do that, Melaku and his team analyzed data taken from 14,210 people who were taking part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants were asked to record everything they had eaten over a 24-hour period, and researchers categorized them into groups based on whether they were eating a primarily healthy plant-based diet (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), a diet high in animal products, or an unhealthy plant-based diet (processed foods, refined grains). The participants also answered a questionnaire to ascertain the likelihood that they had OSA.

After analyzing the data, Melaku and his team determined that the people eating a predominantly healthy plant-based diet were 19% less likely to have OSA than those eating a mostly animal-food diet. And those who ate an unhealthy plant-based diet were 22% more likely to suffer from OSA than their healthier plant-based counterparts.

The researchers also found differences in the risks for women and men, with a plant-based diet having a stronger correlation with OSA risk for men and an unhealthy plant-based diet having a bigger negative influence on women’s risk. “It’s important to note these sex differences,” said Melaku, “because they underscore the need for personalized dietary interventions for people with OSA.”



The researchers now plan to investigate the links between eating ultra-processed food and OSA risk in the same group of people. They also intend to study the interaction between diet and OSA risk over the longer term.

“This research doesn’t tell us why diet is important,” said Melaku, “but it could be that a healthy plant-based diet reduces inflammation and obesity. These are key factors in OSA risk. Diets rich in anti-inflammatory components and antioxidants, and low in harmful dietary elements, can influence fat mass, inflammation, and even muscle tone, all of which are relevant to OSA risk.”




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