Study Shows Plant-Based Diet Linked to Reduced Risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

A recent study published in ERJ Open Research suggests that individuals who adhere to a plant-based diet may have a lower risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The study by Dr. Yohannes Melaku from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, sheds light on the potential benefits of dietary choices in managing sleep-related disorders.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep due to blockages in the upper airway. People with OSA often experience symptoms such as loud snoring, interrupted breathing, and frequent awakenings throughout the night. Left untreated, OSA can lead to serious health complications, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

The study analyzed data from over 14,000 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey participants. Participants reported their dietary habits over 24 hours, and researchers categorized their diets based on the consumption of plant-based and animal-based foods. They also assessed participants’ likelihood of suffering from OSA through a questionnaire.

The findings revealed that individuals who consumed a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts were significantly less likely to have OSA than those with diets low in plant-based foods. Specifically, participants with the highest intake of plant-based foods were found to be 19% less likely to suffer from OSA than those with the lowest intake. Conversely, individuals who consumed an unhealthy plant-based diet, characterized by refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks, and high-sugar, high-salt foods, were at a higher risk of developing OSA.

Dr. Melaku emphasized the importance of diet quality in managing OSA risk, highlighting the potential role of inflammation and obesity in developing the condition. He noted that diets rich in anti-inflammatory components and antioxidants while low in harmful dietary elements may influence factors relevant to OSA risk.

The study also identified differences in OSA risk between men and women, with a stronger correlation between plant-based diets and OSA risk observed in men. Dr. Melaku stressed the need for personalized dietary interventions for individuals with OSA, taking into account sex differences and overall dietary patterns.

Moving forward, the researchers plan to investigate the relationship between ultra-processed foods and OSA risk and the long-term interaction between diet and OSA. Professor Sophia Schiza, Head of the European Respiratory Society’s assembly on sleep-disordered breathing, emphasized the importance of raising awareness about OSA and the potential role of dietary modifications in managing the condition.

The study underscores the potential health benefits of adopting a plant-based diet for overall well-being and reducing the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. By incorporating a variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains into their diets, individuals may improve their sleep quality and reduce their risk of OSA-related complications.