We all know the benefits of a healthy diet and getting the proper amount of sleep at night, but a new research study in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal sheds light on the benefits these healthy living techniques have on sufferers of sleep apnea. Researchers at the Oivauni Sleep Clinic in Kuopio, Finland looked at data from sleep apnea sufferers and found that obese patients were significantly more likely to have their apnea progress to a severe disease than those that maintained exercise and a healthy diet.

“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.

“With these results, we can say that if we change our lifestyle… we really can stop the progression of sleep apnea,” he said. But, “Nobody has really paid any attention to preventing the progression.”

Tuomilehto and his research team assigned 81 adults in the study to a one-year intervention that included a very-low calorie meal plan and exercise routine and compared the data to a control group that were given only a few general diet and exercise information sessions. They found that the patients in the first group were an average of 12 pounds lighter than before the study. Six of the 81 had an increase from mild to moderate sleep apnea, while none developed the severe form of the disease. In the control group, 12 progressed to moderate while two progressed to severe sleep apnea.

“We should really think about weight reduction as a treatment for sleep apnea,” Tuomilehto stated. “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.”
Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT