New American research has found that losing weight from a surprising body part the tongue could help improve the symptoms of sleep apnoea for those suffering from the condition.
Carried out by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the new small-scale study looked at 67 participants with mild to severe obstructive sleep apnoea, who were also obese defined as having a body mass index (BMI) higher than 30.
The participants underwent a weight loss intervention, losing an average of 10% of their body weight over a six-month period, either through diet or bariatric surgery.
They also underwent MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans before and after the intervention, so researchers could look at any changes to the upper airway structures after weight loss.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, showed that overall, the participants sleep apnoea scores improved by 31% after losing weight.
The researchers also found that losing weight led to reduced volumes in the pterygoid (a jaw muscle that controls chewing) and pharyngeal lateral wall (which are muscles on the sides of the airway), which helped improve sleep apnoea.
However, it was the reduction in tongue fat volume that was found to be the primary factor in sleep apnoea improvement.
Most clinicians, and even experts in the sleep apnoea world, have not typically focused on fat in the tongue for treating sleep apnoea, said the unversitys Sleep Medicine chief Dr Richard Schwab.
Now that we know tongue fat is a risk factor and that sleep apnoea improves when tongue fat is reduced, we have established a unique therapeutic target that weve never had before.
Obesity is one of the key risk factors for sleep apnoea, and it was already known that losing weight is an effective way of improving the condition, although the reasons why had been unclear until now.
The team believe that tongue fat is a potential new target for improving sleep apnoea, which is a serious health condition in which breathing stops and starts throughout the night when sleeping, causing patients to wake up and increasing the risk for high blood pressure and stroke.
The researchers are now investigating whether non-obese patients who have fatty tongues could also be at risk of sleep apneoa, but are less likely to be diagnosed.
Primary care doctors, and perhaps even dentists, should be asking about snoring and sleepiness in all patients, even those who have a normal body mass index, as based on our data, they may also be at risk for sleep apnoea, Dr Schwab said. AFP Relaxnews
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