Losing weight through exercise and healthier eating may have
long-term benefits for people with mild sleep apnoea, a new study suggests.
Researchers found obese study participants who went through
a one-year lifestyle intervention were about half as likely to see their sleep apnoea progress to more severe disease, compared to those who received little
People who have sleep apnoea stop breathing for short spurts
when their airway collapses or gets blocked while they're asleep. The condition
is most common among heavy, middle-aged adults and in its advanced form has
been tied to a range of cardiovascular problems.
Progression of mild
disease to more severe
"It usually takes at least a few years to progress from
mild disease to the more severe disease, and mostly it's due to weight
gain," said Dr Henri Tuomilehto, who led the new study at the Oivauni
Sleep Clinic in Kuopio, Finland."With these results, we can say that if we
change our lifestyle... we really can stop the progression of sleep
apnea," he told Reuters Health. But, "Nobody has really paid any attention
to preventing the progression."
Tuomilehto and his colleagues randomly assigned 81 obese
adults with mild sleep apnoea to a one-year intervention, which started with a
very low-kilojoule meal plan and included diet and exercise counselling, or to a
comparison group that received only a few general diet and physical activity
Study showed health
That study initially showed health benefits tied to the
intervention, Tuomilehto said. But whether the effects would persist after the
program had ended was unclear. For the new analysis, the researchers followed
up with 57 of the initial 81 participants, four years after the experiment was
completed. They found people in the exercise and diet group had generally
succeeded in keeping some weight off.
Those participants were 5.4kg lighter than they had been
five years earlier, on average, and people in the comparison group were about
one pound heavier. Six participants in the intervention group had seen their
mild sleep apnea progress to moderate disease, and none had developed severe
On the other hand, 12 members of the comparison group had
moderate sleep apnoea at their follow-up and two had severe sleep apnoea, the
study team wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine. "If you've lost some weight,
four years later, even if you've regained some, there's still some significant
benefit in terms of your apnoea," said Gary Foster, head of the Center for
Obesity Research and Education at the Temple University School of Medicine in
Patients had both
diabetes and sleep apnoea
Foster, who did not
work on the new study, said that finding is consistent with his own research in
a larger group of patients with both sleep apnoea and diabetes. "Obesity is
the single most potent modifiable risk factor for obstructive sleep apnoea," he told Reuters Health."We should really think about weight
reduction as a treatment for sleep apnoea," Tuomilehto agreed.
According to the
American College of Physicians, 4 to 9% of middle-aged men and 2 to 4% of
middle-aged women have sleep apnoea - but the majority of cases are not diagnosed.
Continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP - which helps keep the airways
open at night - allows people to sleep better, but hasn't been shown to prevent
cardiovascular problems tied to sleep apnoea, Tuomilehto said.
So weight loss is important even among people who are
receiving standard treatment."Once you get some symptoms - even not that
dramatic symptoms - then you should take the symptoms seriously because in the
early phases of the disease, if you change your lifestyle habits, you can cure
the disease and prevent the progression of the disease," he said.