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It’s surely happened to you. You’re listening to a podcast, when you hear: “smack, smack, cough.” The host’s vocal tics and throat clearing are so odious and distracting that you have a hard time concentrating on the story or conversation at hand. Perhaps these observations, lurking in the back of your mind, have made you self-conscious as you think about beginning your own podcast, hyperaware that you, too, could croak, squawk, or smack during a recording. So, what’s a fledgling podcaster to do? It’s worth examining your diet. Certain food and drink can affect the quality of your voice, particularly if consumed shortly before you start speaking. However, not all voice-augmenting dietary advice is based on sound science. For example, conventional wisdom among podcast hosts and singers is that dairy adversely affects vocal performances because it increases the amount of phlegm in the throat. Studies have found no evidence, however, of a connection between dairy and mucus production.
Another theory in the podcasting world is that eating an apple or drinking apple juice can help you speak more clearly. Tamara Levitt, host of the sleep service app Calm, uses apple juice to “quiet mouth smacks.” Staffers in Slate’s podcasting department have heard that green apples in particular are an optimal prerecording snack. The notion that apples are some sort of vocal elixir is also popular among musicians. Teyana Taylor, a singer who’s worked with the likes of Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, told New York magazine, “I use an apple-juice-and-aspirin regimen that snaps my voice back in seconds!” Do apples really improve the quality of your voice?
Apples, apple juice, and apple cider vinegar can help, but they aren’t any more beneficial for your voice than most other fruit or juice. An apple’s acidity does make you salivate, which improves vocal performance. Saliva glands have myoepithelial cells, which act as muscles to make the glands contract when they come in contact with tart foods. “If you’ve ever had Sour Patch peaches or sour worms, or bit into a lemon slice, you feel that pinching sensation in your cheeks. That’s the saliva glands contracting,” says John Ingle, a voice specialist at the University of Rochester Medicine Center.
Saliva, in turn, helps to lubricate vocal cords, which are essentially folds in the larynx that vibrate as air passes through them to produce sound. Vocal cords open when you inhale and close when you speak, so saliva acts as lubrication to allow the folds to pull apart more easily. Dry vocal folds stick together, which can cause cell damage, and won’t vibrate as well for speaking. And saliva production in general can help reduce the likelihood that you’ll smack when you talk, which is usually a consequence of a dry or sticky mouth. However, apples are not unique in their ability to promote salivation. Most any foods, though especially tart ones, will make you salivate. Apple juice, with a pH value between 3 and 4, isn’t even particularly acidic. Cranberry juice, for instance, has a greater amount of acid, with a pH of around 2.5.
The acid in apples can clear out mucus in the mouth and throat, but, again, there are other foods that can do this better. “It’s like thinning the oil in your car so it makes secretions easier to handle,” says Robert Sataloff, the chairman of Drexel University’s otolaryngology department. “Lemon does that pretty well. Apple does it a little bit.” If you’ve got a bad cold, you can buy over-the-counter medications containing demulcents, which soothe mucus membranes. Robitussin and Mucinex, also known by its generic name guaifenesin, are some of the most common mucus-clearing medicines.
Sataloff notes that some of his patients believe that apple juice and apple cider vinegar soothe the throat, though this may just be a case of wishful thinking. “Lots of people feel that, but … swallowing almost anything will relax the muscles in your throat,” he says. “Especially if you’re tense, and a lot of people get tense right before performances.”
For people with acid reflux, the acidity of an apple could actually be detrimental to their voice quality. Severe reflux pushes stomach acid up through the larynx and causes the vocal cords to swell or feel dry and irritated. “Obviously, if your vocal cords are chronically irritated or swollen they won’t vibrate as well,” says Ingle. “If you have to use your voice a lot, your vocal cords won’t bounce back as quickly.” Excess phlegm and post-nasal drip as a result of reflux can also make it seem like there’s a lump in your throat. For those with reflux, it’s best to skip the apple juice and instead drink alkaline water, which acts as a base to help neutralize the stomach acid.
Though apples and apple juice can help clear mucus and wet the whistle, these are more or less palliative effects. “It’s going to temporarily make you feel better. It’s almost like a Band-Aid,” says Ingle. If you really want to improve the quality of your voice and health of your throat, the best thing to do is to just drink more water throughout the day. Staying hydrated should keep your vocal cords naturally lubricated and negate the need for an apple in the first place.
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