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Why You May Snore Less If You Eat a Plant-Based Diet

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New research suggests that people who eat a plant-based diet may have a lower risk of experiencing obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. Daria Kulkova/Getty Images
  • Eating healthy plant-based food may reduce instances of dangerous snoring, according to new research.
  • However, people who ate an unhealthy plant-based diet were shown to have an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Experts say healthy foods may lower your risk of snoring and sleep apnea by reducing inflammation and helping you keep a healthy weight.
  • To counteract snoring, you should incorporate nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods into your diet

According to new research, adopting a healthy plant-based diet may be an effective way to stop snoring.

A study published this week in ERJ Open Research found people who eat a healthy, plant-based diet that is high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nuts are less likely to experience obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

People with sleep apnea often snore loudly and are frequently awakened throughout the night due to interruptions in their breathing.

In addition to fatigue, sleep apnea can increase the following health risks:

  • high blood pressure
  • stroke
  • heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes

In the study, people with diets highest in plant-based food were 19% less likely to experience OSA compared with those eating diets lowest in plant-based food. Those eating a largely vegetarian diet were also at a lower risk.

While making healthy plant-based choices appears to reduce instances of snoring, it seems food quality is key.

The study also found that people eating an unhealthy plant-based diet, high in refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks, high-sugar and high-salt foods, are at a higher risk of OSA.

In fact, people eating a diet high in unhealthy plant-based foods were at a 22% higher risk compared to those eating low amounts of these foods.

Is eating plant-based a must if you want to reduce your risk of snoring?

Dan Gartenberg, PhD, sleep scientist and the founder and CEO of SleepSpace, who was not involved in the study,isn’t entirely convinced.

“These findings align with existing knowledge about the health benefits of plant-based diets, but they do not tell us whether a healthy meat-based diet would be inferior to a healthy plant-based diet when it comes to obstructive sleep apnea,” he points out.

One reason a plant-based diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts, may positively affect sleep apnea is because of its impact on inflammation.

“These foods are abundant in nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can help reduce inflammation, neutralize damage-causing free radicals, and ultimately decrease oxidative stress in the body,” Gartenberg explains.

In contrast, an unhealthy plant-based diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks, and high-sugar and high-salt foods can cause inflammation in the throat.

High-sugar and high-salt diets, in particular, can also disrupt the fluid balance in the body.

Gartenberg says this can lead to swelling in many parts of the body, including the head and neck, which may increase the likelihood of airway obstruction during sleep, worsened snoring, and breathing difficulties.

Additionally, making healthier food choices can counteract one of sleep apnea’s biggest risk factors: obesity.

“A plant-based diet addresses the risks of inflammation and obesity by promoting a healthy weight and reducing inflammation in the upper airway,” says Gartenberg. “As a result, these healthy foods can reduce some of the factors that contribute to airway obstruction, thereby making it easier to breathe during sleep.”

Another possible factor to consider is acid reflux, which has been linked to sleep apnea severity.

“Certain foods can leave you prone to or even worsen existing cases of acid reflux,” Gartenberg notes.

However, he points out that research suggests that people who eat a plant-based diet are less likely to experience chronic reflux issues, such as GERD.

Given this information, he says it’s possible that a healthy plant-based diet could theoretically reduce your risk of reflux-related sleep apnea.

Still, it’s important to remember that the findings of this study do not necessarily indicate that a healthy meat-based diet would not have a similar impact on OSA. Gartenberg says more research is needed to answer that question.

What’s clear, though, is that making healthier choices seems to have a positive effect – and that could pay dividends for your overall health and well-being.

“Snoring isn’t just noisy and annoying for your partner; it can mess with your health,” points out Dr. Shelby Harris, director of sleep health at Sleepopolis, who was not involved in the study. “It can lead to poor or fragmented sleep, an increased risk of developing cardiovascular issues, daytime fatigue, weight gain, and hormonal imbalances.”

So, where should you start if you are interested in tweaking your diet to counteract snoring?

“Focus on adjusting your diet to include foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and lean proteins,” Harris advises.

“It’s also important to stay hydrated and lead a healthy, active lifestyle,” she adds.

Gartenberg shares similar advice.

“Focus on incorporating nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods into their diet. This includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes,” he says.

“The timing of meals also plays a role. Try not to consume large meals within two hours of going to bed. This advice is especially important when consuming fatty or sugary foods,” he adds.

As your sleep improves and you feel better rested, you might find it easier to make healthier food choices.

“This is because poor sleep quality due to snoring may influence dietary choices, leading to cravings for high calorie, sugary foods and decreased motivation for physical activity — all of which can further exacerbate obesity and obstructive sleep apnea,” Gartenberg points out.

Diet isn’t the only way to help reduce snoring.

“Some other tips for trying to reduce your snoring can be sleeping on your side, using nasal strips, addressing any allergens (dust, etc.) in your sleeping environment, and avoiding smoking,” says Harris.

Ultimately though, she says if snoring is chronic and disturbing your sleep, talk with your doctor to rule out any underlying health issues.

Obstructive sleep apnea isn’t just disruptive; it can pose serious health risks.

The results of this study suggest that making healthier food choices may help prevent it.

However, the jury’s out on whether you need to exclusively eat plant-based foods to experience the benefits.

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