Weight Loss Dramatically Improves Sleep Apnea

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Losing weight can significantly improve — and possibly even eliminate — symptoms of sleep apnea in obese people, according to research recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. People who have sleep apnea are more than twice as likely as those who don’t to have diabetes, and 50% of men with Type 2 diabetes have sleep apnea.

This condition, which affects more than 12 million people in the United States, is characterized by temporary interruptions in breathing while a person is asleep. These periods without breathing, known as apneas, last 10 seconds or more and may occur hundreds of times over the course of the night. Left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of complications such as stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Researchers looked at 264 obese people (defined as having a body-mass index of 30 or greater) with Type 2 diabetes who were enrolled in the Look AHEAD trial, an ongoing study to determine the health impact of various lifestyle interventions intended to cause and sustain weight loss in overweight and obese people with Type 2 diabetes. The participants, who were all between the ages of 45 and 75, were randomly broken into two groups. One group was given a weight-loss program with a portion-controlled meal plan and an exercise plan that involved 175 minutes of physical activity per week. The other group attended three informational sessions over a one-year period that focused on the use of diet, physical activity, and social support to manage diabetes.

After one year, people in the first group had lost an average of 24 pounds, while those in the second group had an average weight loss of only about one pound. Along with the greater amount of weight lost, those in the first group had about half the instances of severe sleep apnea as those in the second group, and additionally had more than three times as many instances of complete remission of sleep apnea (13.6% in the first group, compared to 3.5% in the second group). (These results also give a hint about what kind of program might be most effective in helping people lose weight.)

According to lead study author Gary Foster, PhD, “The results show that… patients can expect a significant improvement in their sleep apnea with weight loss. And a reduction in sleep apnea has a number of benefits for overall health and well-being.”

For more information about the study, read “Linking Weight Loss to Less Sleep Apnea” or see the study’s abstract in the Archives of Internal Medicine. To learn more about sleep apnea, including its symptoms and its link with diabetes, head over to the article “Sleep Apnea and Type 2 Diabetes: A Vicious Circle.”

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