While it may not seem like an obvious connection, nutrition and airway health are strongly connected and can have a major impact on someone’s overall health.
The importance of nutrition starts with prenatal nutrition and breastfeeding. This helps with the development of a person’s jaw structure and airway and will have a lifelong impact. As infants we should learn how to suck and chew properly and if we don’t we end up with compromised dental arches and poor breathing mechanisms. By introducing the wrong foods at the wrong time, we are setting up children for a lifelong struggle to breathe properly. The human body is intelligent and will find a way to compromise for a narrow airway, such as grinding teeth at night to open the airway slightly allowing more oxygen through. But long-term, this is not an ideal situation.
A dietary regimen should be personalized based on numerous factors including age, genetics and metabolism, however there are some basic nutrition principles everyone should follow.
- Eat whole foods – How do you know if it’s a “whole food?” It should have one ingredient. Examples are fruits (like apples), vegetables (like spinach) and animal protein (like chicken). There shouldn’t be a list of ingredients attached to the food.
- Follow a plant-based diet – This doesn’t mean vegan or vegetarian, but simply that half your plate at each meal should be plants. The more vegetables you include every day, the better. You also need healthy protein and fats to balance out each meal.
- Eat organic – Non-organic foods can be loaded with pesticides, heavy metals, chemicals and genetically-modified organisms, which can compromise sleep.
- Support digestion – Get adequate fiber daily and eat foods that don’t irritate the digestive tract. Digestive issues such as bloating and indigestion can negatively impact sleep.
Unfortunately, there is a tricky component to nutrition and airway health — they both have an effect on one another. Poor nutrition causes poor breathing, and poor breathing causes poor nutrition. Have you ever noticed a difference in your eating habits throughout the day after a poor night’s sleep? You typically eat more calories in the form of carbohydrates and sugar to help compensate for the lack of energy, and this leads to a downward spiral of weight gain and subsequently even worse sleep quality.
Therefore, it’s extremely important to focus on optimal nutrition at the same time that you work with a qualified Dentist who practices dental sleep medicine.