Losing weight through lifestyle changes can improve or even reverse mild cases of the night time breathing disorder, sleep apnea, a new study from the University of Kuopio in Finland suggests.
The study, of 72 overweight middle-aged adults with mild obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), found that those placed on a diet-and-lifestyle regimen not only lost weight but showed significant improvements in their sleep apnea.
OSA occurs when the soft tissues at the back of the throat temporarily collapse during sleep, causing repeated breathing interruptions. Major symptoms include loud snoring and daytime sleepiness.
People with OSA also have a heightened risk of heart disease. It's thought that repeated bouts of oxygen deprivation during sleep may, for example, raise blood pressure, which takes a toll on the cardiovascular system over time.
For their study, the researchers randomly assigned the 72 adults in the early stages of OSA to either take part in an intensive lifestyle-change program (including a calorie reduced diet, nutrition counselling, exercise) or receive standard advice on diet and exercise.
Over one year, participants lost about 22 pounds, on average, and the more weight they lost, they more likely they were to see their OSA go away.
Of those who managed to shed more than 33 pounds, 88 percent no longer had OSA by the study's end. That figure was 62 percent among patients who lost between 11 and 33 pounds.
In this study, OSA patients' weight loss was accompanied by improvements in their heart risk factors, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
These results suggest that intensive lifestyle changes should begin soon after OSA is diagnosed.
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