Can Sleep Apnea Raise Your Cholesterol Levels?

There's been a lot of press coverage about good and bad cholesterol, as well as studies about various medications that are used to lower high cholesterol levels. The problem with the one variable paradigm of medicine is that illness is not solely a function of one elevated blood test finding. There are hundreds, if not millions of variables that when added together, produces one of the end results that we can measure, like your LDL levels. The same problem applies to allergies, where numerous medications are used to control histamine, which is one of many inflammatory mediators that result from an allergic attack. Amyloid plaques seen in Alzheimer's is another good example.

In all three of the above scenarios (cholesterol, histamine and plaques), wouldn't it be better to control what starts the problem, rather than just covering up the end result? Not too surprisingly, lack of quality or quantity of sleep has been shown again to raise your cholesterol levels (in addition to numerous inflammatory markers and amyloid plaques). In this month's Journal SLEEP, researchers found in teenagers that the less they slept, the higher their risk of developing high cholesterol levels later as an adult. This risk was much higher for women. As a society, we're sleeping about 1 to 1.5 hours less than we did 50 years ago. In a culture where sleep deprivation is glorified ("I get by on only 5 hours of sleep") these findings are not too surprising. 

There are numerous proposed explanations as to how poor sleep can lead to increased (bad) cholesterol levels, but the common pathway seems to be metabolic effects on the liver. There are other studies that show accumulation of fat cells in sleep apnea patients, similar to what's seen in alcoholics. Sleep restriction also causes decreased glucose tolerance, increased cortisol levels, decreased the satiety hormone ghrelin, and increased hunger and appetite.

How many of you were placed on cholesterol medications long before you were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea?

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One thought on “Can Sleep Apnea Raise Your Cholesterol Levels?

  1. I am greatly encouraged by learning about the relationship between sleep apnea and high cholesterol. In fact, I am excited! Three months ago I begged my doctor for a sleep study–mainly because I snore so loud my family teases me mercilessly–I have never had daytime sleepiness though. After a night or two with CPAP my blood pressure dropped 20-30 points and now is 115/65 and I discontinued one of my three bp meds. I finally sleep 7-8 hours without waking and feel great–I’m losing about a half pound a week too. Now I’m waiting to see if I can finally bring my cholesterol down without statins which give me lots of side effects. Thanks for key information I never knew, even though I have been to so many doctors and read articles and books about bp and cholesterol since I was first diagnosed 20 years ago. I’m 66 and feel I’m getting my life back.