Plant-based diets may affect the risk of developing OSA

Sleep Apnea 2

Adhering to a healthy plant-based diet may be linked to a lower risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) by reducing inflammation and lowering the likelihood of obesity, according to a study published in ERJ Open Research.

However, eating an unhealthy plant-based diet that's high in salt and sugar may significantly heighten the risk of developing OSA, the authors wrote. 

"Higher adherence to a healthy PDI (plant-based dietary indices) is associated with reduced OSA risk, while an unhealthy plant-based diet has a positive association," wrote the authors, led by Yohannes Melaku, PhD, MPH, of the Flinders University College of Medicine and Public Health in South Australia (ERJ Open Res, January 3, 2024).  

The study used data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an ongoing research project collecting nationally representative data. Data from four cycles of NHANES (2005-2008 and 2015-2018) involving 39,722 participants were analyzed, focusing on 14,210 participants.

The nutritional content of food was determined using the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies, and participants' data were linked to the USDA's Food Patterns Equivalents Database, which categorizes foods and beverages into 37 components, they wrote.

Furthermore, four plant-based diet indices were calculated based on categories such as healthy plant foods, less-healthy plant foods, and animal foods. The Stop-Bang tool (snoring, tired, observed (snort), pressure, body mass index, age, neck, gender) was used to assess OSA risk, according to the study.

Those who followed a healthy plant-based diet lowered their risk of OSA by 19% (odds ratio [OR] = 0.81, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.66 to 1.00), the authors wrote. However, those who adhered to an unhealthy plant-based diet increased their risk of developing OSA by 22% (OR=1.22, 95% CI: 1.00 to 1.49), they concluded.

The study, however, had limitations, like its cross-sectional design. The study's design limited researchers' ability to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between dietary indices and the risk of OSA, they wrote. Therefore, additional research with longitudinal data should be completed in the future.

"Such findings prompt consideration for re-evaluation of dietary recommendations, to a shift towards emphasizing healthy plant-based diets that are rich in anti-inflammatory components and antioxidant nutrients and low in harmful dietary factors," Melaku et al added.

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