By Terri Gerlach, PhD
"You are what you eat,” so we have been told.We are healthier, perform better, and feel better if we eat well. These same principles are true for the health and functioning of your larynx and vocal folds. Similar to maximizing the potential for our body to function, there are foods and beverages that can either help or hurt the functioning of our vocal folds and therefore the quality of both our speaking and singing voices.
The very best thing to drink to keep both your body and vocal folds functioning at their best is water.The vocal folds are made up, in part, of mucosal membrane that requires consistent hydration to allow for ease of vibration and flexibility in movement.If you do not hydrate well, or drink beverages that actually dry out this mucosal membrane, then this delicate tissue that surrounds the vocal folds cannot vibrate as easily. The result is the tendency to force or strain your voice in attempts to obtain that good voice quality you know you are capable of producing.
You should drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces of water. This needs to be adjusted upward by the same amount of caffeinated beverages you drink, since they will dry out the mucosal membrane. Some people don’t like water, so adding flavoring or twists of lemon, lime, and orange can help.
Caffeinated beverages will actually dehydrate the body.These include coffee, some teas, iced tea, and many sodas.Alcohol will also dehydrate mucosal tissue and the body in general.Beverages with high levels of sugar tend to make our saliva thicker, as do milk products. Thicker mucous and saliva can disrupt the normal functioning of the vocal folds and even our articulators. This could result in both decreased vocal quality and speech clarity.
Foods that are recommended by your doctor and the medical community in general will also be good for your larynx and vocal folds. Fruits, vegetables, berries, and seeds should be included with some limitations on those with a high glycemic index or sugar content. Protein is important and can be incorporated into either a vegetarian or regular diet.
Avoiding processed foods, sugar, high carbohydrates, and fried or fatty foods is essential for maintaining your health and the general functioning of your body. Dairy such as in yogurts or other foods may cause excess or thick mucus that could adversely affect your voice quality, but are not necessarily bad for you.
Acidic foods such as tomatoes, tomato-based foods, spicy foods and some fruits and juices can cause reflux to worsen. Unfortunately, chocolate, peppermint, and spearmint-flavored foods also need to be avoided.You would need to choose different flavors for your gum and lozenges. Avoid menthol in medications as well.Reflux has been found in some cases to adversely affect the voice by causing swelling and irritation of the vocal folds.Very often those who experience this irritation develop throat clearing and coughing that can cause damage to the vocal folds due to collision force trauma. Consult a dietitian for specific diet recommendations that can be individualized to your health needs.
A healthy voice is a happy voice, and by following these guidelines, you can help keep your voice healthy whether you’re performing or talking to your friends and family.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician.
Dr. Gerlach is a speech language pathologist who practices in our SouthPark office. She specializes in voice and swallowing disorders for both pediatric and adult populations. She is a Level II-certified Buteyko breathing practitioner for disorganized and disordered breathing. She received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Miami University in Oxford, OH, and her doctorate from the University of South Carolina.
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