In episode 134 of his video series, Dr. Larson discusses:

Over twenty-two million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that results in a lack of proper  airflow and oxygen throughout the night, and also characterized by loud snoring. The more technical term for it is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Sleep apnea is a serious condition featured by a lack of nutrient-rich oxygen to the brain, and also poses a significantly increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke. So, how do we mitigate it so that we can stop this common condition?


During sleep apnea, there is a lack of airflow, so treatment has been focused on ways to pump air back in. Patients who have sleep apnea are prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine that works by pumping air into the system to bypass the obstruction. Those who can tolerate the machine typically have a significant improvement in their apnea scores, improving both the quality and quantity of their sleep. This is key treatment for apnea sufferers, but it only seeks to treat the symptomatic effect, rather than to find the cause of the obstruction. Research is needed to help discover and develop treatment for what is actually blocking the airway.


A study was released a few of days ago out of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Researchers looked for the underlying cause of sleep apnea. What we do know about sleep apnea is that there are a few different types. But, in general, one of the key risk factors for OSA is abdominal obesity. Not everyone with obesity will develop sleep apnea, but it is a significant risk factor. There were 67 participants in the study.


All of the participants were diagnosed with sleep apnea and they also all had a BMI of 30 or above, which is considered obese. Through a variety of interventions, all of the participants in the study lost 10% of their body weight. Researchers found that the weight loss led to a significant decrease in their sleep apnea severity. The researchers wanted to take it one step further and determine why losing weight affected sleep apnea. 

-Dr Chad Larson


They used an MRI to examine participant’s abdominal fat and upper airway anatomy to find out what changed, relative to the decrease in weight. The researchers discovered that the component of the upper airway anatomy that was the most obstructive was the tongue. Following the weight loss, researchers observed that the volume of the tongue shrunk, reducing the airflow compromise. The greater the degree of decrease in the size of the tongue, the greater the participant enjoyed better quality and quantity of sleep. There was observed fat loss in the abdomen, but the mechanism that reduced the sleep apnea was an observed fat loss in the tongue. Did you know your tongue has fat?


Researchers point out that this is an important first step in developing interventions to lose the type of weight and fat necessary to reduce tongue volume. The CPAP can be highly uncomfortable, and, therefore, can lead to a lower compliance rate and overall benefit. And although the CPAP is super important treatment for sufferers, this latest research gives the medical community a tool to help decrease the cause of sleep apnea. Is you suffer from sleep apnea, consider interventions for fat-burning and weight loss.

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