Watch your tongue: Scientists make unusual fat-loss link to sleep apnea

Laverne Higgins
January 13, 2020

From here, the researchers would like to conduct follow-up studies exploring how some low-fat diets could be tuned specifically to lower fat content in the tongue, as well as some alternative approaches such as cold therapy.

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, scanned 67 people with obstructive sleep apnoea who were obese and had lost 10% of their body weight, improving their symptoms improved by 30%.

"If you lose weight, AHI improves, and this study showed that the primary factor mediating that is a reduction in tongue fat", he said, explaining that while obesity is a key risk factor for OSA, and weight loss is well recognized as an effective treatment strategy, the mechanism or mechanisms driving this are not well understood.

The team found that reducing the volume of fat in the tongue was the main link between losing weight and improving sleep apnea. "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 apnea", Schwab said. With the exception of people who suffer from a recessed jaw or large tonsils, the primary factor in obstructive sleep apnea was believed to be largely caused by fat on one's neck.

A sleep disorder that can leave people gasping for breath at night could be linked to the amount of fat on their tongues, a study suggests.

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The patients lost nearly 10% of their body weight through diet or weight-loss surgery, on average, over six months.

MRI was also used to examine 12 measures of soft tissue volume, including tongue, tongue fat, soft palate, para-pharyngeal fat pads, lateral walls, pterygoids, epiglottis, and combined soft tissue volume.

To understand how weight loss affected the upper airway and abdominal fat, the researchers assessed Pearson's correlations between percent changes in weight and anatomical structures.

A potentially serious sleep disorder affecting breathing during slumber may be overcome by reduction of fat in the tongue, according to a study which may lead to new drug targets against the disease. The researchers are also examining whether ultrasound can effectively identify tongue size and tongue fat in large populations. The ATS publishes three journals, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology and the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health. Additional Penn authors include Stephen H. Wang, Brendan T. Keenan, Andrew Wiemken, Yinyin Zang, Bethany Staley, David B. Sarwer, Drew A Torigian, Noel Williams, and Allan I. Pack.

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