Sleep apnea can benefit from holistic treatments such as acupuncture and functional medicine. The standard of care for sleep apnea is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. Another good option for some patients is the mandibular advancement device.
Sleep apnea is more common in men than women and is classified as either obstructive or central sleep apnea. Most people have one or the other, but it is also possible to suffer from a combination of the two. While some people who snore don’t have sleep apnea, in general snoring is commonly found in sleep apnea sufferers. The risk of high blood pressure and heart attack are significantly increased, so screening and treatment are extremely important.
Sleep apnea sufferers who can benefit from holistic treatments
Here are some of the situations where sleep apnea patients seek help from holistic treatments such as acupuncture and functional medicine:
- People who already use the CPAP device or the mandibular advancement device, but are still having trouble sleeping well.
- People who are exhausted, even with the use the above devices.
- Patients who come in for insomnia. I do all my regular screening questions and conclude that there is a possibility of sleep apnea, then I make a referral for a sleep study. Meanwhile, we can start our treatment for insomnia.
- People who have tried doing a sleep study, but because of severe insomnia, they couldn’t get any relevant results from the study. I help them sleep better so they can at least be able to sleep through the study.
- People who have heard that herbs and nutrients along with diet changes can decrease inflammation and can improve sleep apnea. I can help guide them through and teach them what will help.
- Patients who are already using the CPAP device or the mandibular advancement device with good results but would like to improve their health and decrease their apnea index.
- Those with nasal congestion who are having a hard time using the CPAP machine because of it.
Why do people suffer from sleep apnea?
That aim of treating sleep apnea with holistic treatments is to look at the whole person and identify why you have developed it in the first place.
Some of the most common causes or factors associated with sleep apnea:
- Excess body weight and/or around the neck
- Nasal congestion and allergic rhinitis
- Drop in estradiol levels in perimenopausal and menopausal women
- Structurally small upper airway combined with any of the other factors included here
- Compounding factors such as alcohol use, muscle relaxant medications, smoking
- Enlarged adenoids (especially in kids) and hypothyroidism
- Unknown factors, especially with central sleep apnea
The treatment of sleep apnea in the clinic usually involves a combination of nutrition, lifestyle changes, acupuncture and the aid of herbs and nutrients. The general aim is to improve sleep quality, decrease inflammation in the airway and nasal passageways, and strengthen the tongue and neck muscles.
How does acupuncture help sleep apnea as a holistic treatment?
Acupuncture can affect sleep apnea in a few primary ways:
- acupuncture strengthens the tongue muscles, which prevents the tongue from collapsing in the back of the throat
- it can reduce swelling and inflammation in the respiratory tissues
- studies show that acupuncture can decrease sleepiness during the day and help with your mood
- acupuncture can improve blood oxygen saturation
The acupuncture treatments are done weekly for at least 12 sessions in order to see significant results. Most people start seeing some improvement around the fourth or fifth treatment. The results vary because of various factors, from age to willingness to make certain lifestyle changes.
How does functional medicine help sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea and functional medicine treatments bring a deeper understanding to the root cause of this disorder. This is particularly relevant in central sleep apnea because of its lesser-known causes. However, obstructive sleep apnea is far more common and functional medicine can help support the healing process.
Here are some of the functions and disorders we are looking into for sleep apnea treatments and support:
- Local and systemic with all its various causes
- Food sensitivities testing (sensitivity to certain foods can contribute to inflammation and allergic rhinitis.)
- Elimination diet plan to assess sensitivities, decrease inflammation and decrease weight
- Assessing vitamin levels (a deficiency of some vitamins, like vitamin D, can be related to sleep apnea.)
- Digestive imbalances, especially GERD healing
- Thyroid function
- Mold and chemical exposures
- Assessing for metabolic syndrome since it is highly correlated with sleep apnea
Treatment for sleep apnea is a team effort, and integration with Western medicine is important. This is true about all the other disorders, but especially sleep apnea. Treatments are based on each person’s individual needs, which will be assessed at the initial session.