Plant-based diet cuts sleep apnoea risk by a fifth, research shows

<span>A plant-based diet had a bigger effect on reducing apnoea risk for men.</span><span>Photograph: David Davies/PA</span>
A plant-based diet had a bigger effect on reducing apnoea risk for men.Photograph: David Davies/PA

If your partner’s snoring is driving you to the end of your tether, one solution could be to take away their Sunday roast – and not just as revenge.

Research shows that a healthy, plant-based diet cuts the risk of sleep apnoea by about a fifth.

The study, published in ERJ Open Research, found that those consuming the most vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts were 19% less likely to have sleep apnoea than those who ate the least plant-based, healthy food.

The researchers also found differences in the risks for women and men, with a plant-based diet having a bigger effect in reducing the apnoea risk for the latter.

Sleep apnoea occurs when the airways become too narrow while you sleep, preventing you from breathing properly. It has been linked to obesity, having a large neck, smoking and drinking alcohol, and sleeping on your back.

Patients with the condition often snore loudly, stop and start breathing, and wake up making gasping, snorting or choking noises.

Studies have shown that obstructive sleep apnoea increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, irregular heartbeat, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. It affects an estimated 1 billion people globally and treatment often involves losing weight, alongside other lifestyle changes.

Dr Yohannes Melaku, from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, who led the study, said: “These results highlight the importance of the quality of our diet in managing the risk of obstructive sleep apnoea.

“It’s important to note these sex differences because they underscore the need for personalised dietary interventions for people with obstructive sleep apnoea.

“This research doesn’t tell us why diet is important but it could be that a healthy plant-based diet reduces inflammation and obesity.

“These are key factors in obstructive sleep apnoea 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 risk.” Researchers examined data from 14,210 people taking part in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, who gave 24-hour information on what they ate.

Food groups were categorised as healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, tea and coffee), less healthy plant foods (refined grains, potatoes, sugar-sweetened drinks, sweets and desserts, salty foods), and animal foods (animal fat, dairy, eggs, fish or seafood, and meat).

People also answered a questionnaire designed to gauge whether they were likely to be suffering from sleep apnoea.

Prof Sophia Schiza, the head of the European Respiratory Society’s assembly on sleep disordered breathing, said: “Being aware that incorporating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains into our diet while minimising the consumption of unhealthy foods and sugary drinks can greatly improve our overall health.

“We need to make it as easy as possible for everyone to adopt a healthy diet.”