There are many reasons why the rate of sleep apnea in this country is increasing. Partly, it’s weight gain. As the obesity levels in this country rise, it makes sense that obstructive sleep apnea rates would as well. However, a new study begun by Brazilian researchers, seeks to determine whether a diet high in salt, also common in the US, could contribute to sleep apnea.

How High Salt Could Contribute to Sleep Apnea

A diet high in salt causes your body to retain fluid. It retains fluid in all your tissues as the salt creates an ionic imbalance that prevents water from flowing out of the cells and toward the kidneys, which regulate fluid levels in the body.

When you lie down to sleep, the fluid retained in the tissues of your neck increase the weight of your airway. When you fall asleep, this increased weight pushes down on your airway and either narrows it or forces it to close completely. The effect is similar to the way that excess fat in the neck area contributes to sleep apnea.

How Much Salt Do You Eat?

Chronic salt overintake is common in the US, partly because many of the processed foods we eat include high levels of sodium. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the body only needs about 180-500 mg of salt per day. The recommended amount is about 1500 mg. The upper limit that we can eat without suffering ill health effects is about 2300 mg. However, on average an American consumes about 3400 mg every day!

Even without the sleep apnea connection, eating this much sodium contributes to high blood pressure and other heart problems.

Testing the Connection

The Brazilian researchers trying to determine whether salt is partly responsible for sleep apnea will divide 54 volunteers who have severe sleep apnea into three groups. One group will take a diuretic pill, which will reduce salt in the body by increasing the amount that the kidney excretes in urine. Another group will be switched to a low-salt diet, which reduces bodily salt by decreasing intake. A control group will have no treatment. All groups will undergo constant sleep studies to determine the effect of salt level changes on sleep apnea.

Reducing Your Salt & Treating Your Apnea

Reducing your salt intake is a good step to take for your health anyway and is recommended for most people. Here are three quick steps for reducing your sodium intake:

  • Eat fewer processed foods–these foods often use an excessive amount of salt as their primary flavoring. This includes eating out, where you do not know the amount of salt being added to dishes.
  • Don’t salt food twice–either add salt to the recipe or add it at the table. Try not to do both.
  • Avoid high-sodium condiments–even when you’re cooking at home, you may not know that the ingredients you’re using have an excessive amount of salt. For example, one tablespoon of soy sauce contains about 1000 mg of sodium. If you can’t give it up, try to switch to low-sodium versions if possible.
  • Use more spices rather than salt to flavor your foods.
  • Read the labels of foods you by and opt for ones that contain lower sodium content.

However, if you want to learn more about treating sleep apnea, please call (303) 691-0267 at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado in Denver.