Do You Know Nutrition: Diet can affect sleep apnea

By Phylis Canion
June 18, 2013 at 1:18 a.m.

Is there a particular diet for someone with sleep apnea? I wear the breathing machine at night and find it very annoying. Please help.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder that exists only during sleep and cannot be diagnosed while awake. Apnea is caused by accumulation of fat around the upper respiratory tract at the back of the throat.

As muscle tone relaxes during sleep, the surplus fat falls back and chokes the airway, completely blocking intake of air to the lungs. The body's vital oxygen supply may be cut off for a full minute or more at a time.

Apnea, a frequent and potentially deadly disorder, affects 20 million Americans, mostly those who are overweight. Those who suffer from apnea suffer from dangerously low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream and brain while asleep. Another interesting note is that the constant stress created by deprivation of slow wave and REM sleep leads to high blood pressure in 60 percent of apneics, according to Dr. Dave Carpenter and Dr. Ellen Tart-Jensen, and is so stated in her book, "Health Is Your Birthright."

Men fall into a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. Other risk factors include hypertension, excessive alcohol, overuse of sedatives or tranquilizers, neck circumference, smoking, diabetes and metabolic disorders. The role of your diet is a key factor. According to Charles Barkhead in "Diet May Contribute to Obstructive Sleep Apnea," he states that patients with severe disordered breathing consume significantly more fat, cholesterol, saturated fat and protein compared with individuals with less disturbed sleep.

So, here we go with foods to avoid: caffeine, spicy foods, colas, chocolate, bananas, stimulant drugs, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, additives, preservatives, canned foods, sugar and sugary foods (i.e. pastries, cookies, cakes, etc.), processed snack foods, foods high in protein.

Foods to eat: chlorophyll-rich foods (i.e. leafy green vegetables), gluten-free whole grains, mushrooms, fruits (mulberries are excellent), nuts and seeds, dill and basil. Plant-based oils, safflower, sunflower and flaxseed oils are recommend since they provide unsaturated fats that support nutrient absorption. And, as I always recommend, don't forget drinking plenty of water.

Thought for the week: Care about people's approval and you become their prisoner - Lao Tzu

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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