|About Airway Health
Airway-Centered Disorder (ACD) is a structural and physiological condition of the mouth, jaw, nasal passages, tongue, or throat that involves an obstruction of the upper airways, which in turn can affect breathing 24 hours a day – including and especially during sleep. ACD impacts how we breathe because it increases the amount of effort we put into breathing just to survive. ACD is the “hidden” airway problem, often not recognized, and expressed as other chronic health, developmental, educational, and performance issues. When not recognized, the expressions of the ACD are treated and the underlying disorder remains – to be expressed yet again in another form.
At FAH, we believe that opening one’s airway (see Getting Help for more information) can have a dramatic effect on the ability to function in everyday life, on one’s physical appearance, and on overall long-term health. We also believe that ACD, in its various forms, is a missing link in medicine today.
What Happened to Our Airways? A Brief History Lesson…
Around 12,000 years ago, before the development of agriculture, humans’ skulls and faces were much more ape-like, with wide jaws and rounded facial structures. This allowed for large nasal openings through the sinuses, plenty of room for the tongue, and a lower jaw that could comfortably rest in a forward position, which created open airways in the throat.
The staples of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle up until that point included meat, fruit, nuts, wild grains, and vegetables, most of which were uncooked and difficult to chew. The introduction of agriculture changed the human diet to a diet of soft foods such as cooked beans and grains that didn’t require the same level of chewing strength. Over time, the shape of our faces began to change. The jaws narrowed, and airways were more restricted.
Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, and one can see other factors contributing to the narrowing of our airways. Take breastfeeding, which plays a crucial role in normal facial development. The sucking and swallowing action creates the musculature and bone formation that are needed for proper airway development. Yet as women left home to work, nursing began to fall out of favor. In addition to this, our soft and nutrient-deficient Western diet contributed to malocclusion (problems with how the upper and lower jaws fit together, the “bite”), which was observed to be virtually nonexistent in non-industrialized cultures. These new problems, underdeveloped jaws and narrow airways, were not the result of a genetic change but rather the epigenetic effect (changes in gene expression) that had occurred.
Here’s the bottom line: Smaller jaws leave less room for teeth, causing crowding. There is also less room for the tongue, forcing it to move backwards into the throat. During sleep, the tongue tends to fall back even more, where it tends to block the airway. Blockages of the nasal passages and/or throat can affect breathing 24 hours a day. There is extensive documentation of the myriad negative effects of breathing difficulties during sleep, collectively known as sleep-disordered breathing. Disrupted or fragmented sleep has profoundly disturbing effects on the brain, causes systemic inflammation, oxidative stress and a host of severe health problems. Deep, restorative sleep is critical to our ability to thrive. Indeed, it is critical to our survival.