Can weight loss improve obstructive sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea severity can be directly correlated with weight gain and loss in adults. Physicians frequently recommend weight loss as one of the ways to help treat obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
Losing just 10% of body weight can have a large impact on sleep apnea symptoms. Losing a significant amount of weight can even fix the condition. Not to mention improving other health problems like heart disease.
Research from the University of Pennsylvania
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania examined the upper airway with an MRI before and after weight loss.
Sixty-seven adults with obesity and OSA were recruited for the research on the effect of weight loss on upper airway anatomy and the Apnea-Hypopnea Index. They used an MRI to scan the upper airways and abdomen before and after weight loss.
Quantifying results that weight loss can improve obstructive sleep apnea
What they found was that airway sizes and soft tissue, tongue fat (yes tongue fat), and abdominal fat volumes were quantified.
The weight loss significantly reduced tongue fat, pterygoid, and lateral throat wall volumes.
Unfortunately, tongue fat is distributed throughout the tongue muscle, and not concentrated in a specific location. So, liposuction is not a viable treatment.
This may be why throat exercises that target the muscles of the upper airway can help with obstructive sleep apnea.
It is believed that regular exercises involving the tongue, soft palate, and lateral pharyngeal wall significantly improve OSA.
Playing a wind instrument
The exercises involved playing a wind instrument known as a didgeridoo. What they found with these patients was a significant decrease in neck circumference, snoring frequency, intensity and daytime sleepiness, sleep quality score, and OSAS severity.
Patients with moderate OSAS spent 3 months daily (30 minutes) with oropharyngeal exercises.
They found that these exercises significantly reduced the severity and symptoms and represents a promising treatment for OSAS.
Sleep Apnea Treatment
Before you can decide on treatment, you need to discover if you have sleep apnea. The breathing pauses happen during sleep and most people with sleep apnea have no idea they even have it.
Clues you might have sleep apnea:
- Nighttime snoring
- Daytime sleepiness
- Loud Snoring
- Episodes where you stop breathing during sleep
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Trouble staying asleep
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
These are all indicators of a problem. But not everyone who has sleep apnea snores.
If you have signs or symptoms of sleep apnea, talk to your doctor.
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Effect of Weight Loss on Upper Airway Anatomy and the Apnea-Hypopnea Index: The Importance of Tongue Fat. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2020 Jan 10. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201903-0692OC.
Effects of oropharyngeal exercises on patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2009 May 15;179(10):962-6. DOI: 10.1164/rccm.200806-981OC. Epub 2009 Feb 20.