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Will Snoring Improve If You Take Fish Oil?

One reader reported that taking the cardiovascular medicine icosapent ethyl (Vascepa) also made snoring improve. Vascepa has not been tested for this.

Do you snore? You probably don’t know whether you do or not, unless you have a bed partner who complains. (Dogs or cats don’t count.) Snoring happens when you breathe out, but the tissues of the throat are so relaxed that they don’t allow air to pass easily. Instead, they vibrate and the vibration makes noise. Sometimes this is a symptom of an underlying problem, so people who snore should talk with their primary health care provider and be evaluated. Doctors treat obstructive sleep apnea with devices such as a CPAP machine. If it does not signal a problem that needs treatment, how can you help snoring improve? One reader found an unexpected answer.

A Surprising Effect Helps Snoring  Improve:

Q. Although it’s not a recognized benefit of Vascepa, I found that 2 grams/day (half the usual dose) reduced inflammation. The effect was noticeable enough that my wife reported my snoring went from strong to tolerable.

What Is Vascepa?

A. Vascepa (icosapent ethyl) is a highly purified fish oil derivative. In general, doctors prescribe it to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes and to lower high levels of triglycerides. It contains only one omega-3 fatty acid, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Ordinary fish oil also contains DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

As you noted, Vascepa is not prescribed to help snoring improve. Instead, cardiologists prescribe it for patients with heart disease. A large randomized controlled trial tested Vascepa against placebo in people at high risk for cardiovascular complications (New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 3, 2019).  When people took 4 grams daily, they were less likely to have heart attacks or strokes, need stents or die from any of these causes.

Fish Oil Fights Inflammation:

You are right that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil reduce inflammation. That is why they have been used to treat autoimmune diseases (Frontiers in Immunology, Sep. 27, 2019). 

We’ve never heard before that this medication would help snoring improve, but if inflammation is the source, that effect is plausible. Treating obstructive sleep apnea, often a cause of snoring, reduces inflammation in the body (Seminars in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Oct. 2014). 

If anyone decides to try this, they should keep in mind that Vascepa contains a far more precise dose of EPA than over-the-counter fish oils would. In addition, most fish oil also contains DHA. We don’t know how this would affect the possibility that reducing inflammation would reduce snoring.

In general, physicians recommend the following simple measures to improve snoring:

  1. Lose weight. (Excess weight can contribute to tissue blocking the airway.)
  2. Sleep on your side. (When you sleep on your back, the tongue can slide back and get in the way.)
  3. No nightcaps. (Alcohol makes throat tissue relaxed, floppy and more likely to vibrate.)
  4. Don’t smoke. (Smoking irritates the airways and makes inflammation worse.)
  5. Stay away from sleeping pills. (Like alcohol, these relax the muscles of the throat, setting up a perfect snoring situation.)
  6. Manage allergies. (Nobody can breathe well when their nose is stopped up.)
  7. Raise the head. (Pillows or raising the head of the bed might help. We haven’t seen the evidence on this one.)
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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Bhatt DL et al, "Cardiovascular risk reduction with icosapent ethyl for hypertriglyceridemia." New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 3, 2019. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1812792
  • Li X et al, "Therapeutic potential of ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in human autoimmune diseases." Frontiers in Immunology, Sep. 27, 2019. DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.02241
  • May AM & Mehra R, "Obstructive sleep apnea: Role of intermittent hypoxia and inflammation." Seminars in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Oct. 2014. DOI: 10.1055/s-0034-1390023
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