Sleep Apnea And Liver Disease

December 22, 2009

Here’s another "dot" that connects to the central concept of my sleep-breathing paradigm: That poor breathing and frequent obstructions and arousals can negatively affect EVERY organ or system in your body, and that all modern humans are susceptible to various degrees of breathing problems while sleeping. 


We’ve known for a long time that untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Recently there are even studies suggesting a link to inflammatory bowel diseases such as Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis. I’ve written numerous blogs about the link between Alzheimer’s and sleep apnea. One study showed that creating hypoxic states in mice similar to what occurs in sleep apnea creates amyloid plaques in brain tissue. Now, there’s a study linking oxygen deprivation to chronic liver disease in mice.


Researchers showed that keeping mice in low oxygen levels for a week resulted in increased levels of fat and inflammation in the liver. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a common, often silent liver disease that occurs in up to 40% of the population. It’s like alcoholic liver disease (alcoholic steatohepatitis, or ASH), but occurs in people who drink little to no alcohol. NASH can be severe and lead to cirrhosis. 


Interestingly, we know that obesity predisposes to both fatty liver and obstructive sleep apnea. Alcohol also predisposes to obstructive sleep apnea by relaxing throat muscles, leading to more frequent obstructions and low oxygen states. In this particular study, the mice exposed to low oxygen were also less sensitive to insulin.


This study brings up an interesting question: are NASH and ASH the same condition, where alcohol aggravates more hypoxia by causing more frequent obstructions? If you’re obese, the chances that you’ll have obstructive sleep apnea are much higher, and if you add alcohol, it’ll add further to your risk of developing chronic liver disease.


If you have any type of chronic liver disease, do you snore, or suspect that you may have a sleep-breathing problem? Please enter your responses below in the comments box.

4 Responses to “Sleep Apnea And Liver Disease”

  1. Vicki Terry on March 25th, 2010 8:20 am

    I was diagnoised with acute liver failure in Jan. 2009 (cause unknown, but with suspicions of surgery anesthesia, antibiotics or ???). I was sent to a hospital with a liver transplant team in anticipation of a liver transplant.  However, before I was placed on the transplant list, my liver began a slight improvement and I was sent home to recover and am still doing so.
    Now March 24th, 2010, I was semi-diagnosed with sleep apnea by a Sleep Specialist,  I have not had a sleep test at a sleep clilnic yet, but have many of the sypmtoms.  I am not overweight and have never consumed alcohol and am 54 years old.
    Is it possible that my liver condition was caused in part by sleep apnea?  Should I take precautions by seeking sleep apnea treatment?
    Thank you, Vicki

  2. Sheila on April 23rd, 2011 8:02 pm

    I was recently told i am oxygen deprived when i sleep and i also am severely asthmatic and just was recently put on oxygen at night when i sleep, i’ve been through all the sleep studies so here is a couple of question i have how did i get this and will i get to the point where i would need oxygen all the time and my daughter has crohns disease, she is 18 could i have given this to her? oh and i am vitamin b12 deficient, any helpful information would be great thank you

  3. Katie Strasnick on December 8th, 2011 5:24 pm

    In 2002, the asymtomatic ALT of 50, was followed up with an US of hepatomegaly. No bx. Over the past 9 years, the ALT has remained 30-60. I am athletic, 5’4″/110. At my husband’s OSA apt, he noted my snoring, the doctor turned to me, and said, nocturia? (2-3X) your small jaw, you probably have OSA. Sept 2011 Dx= severe OSA with oxygen sats to the 60s such that I was place on CPAP within two hours. Now my feet aren’t freezing at night, nocturia (1X), and MY LIVER ISN’T SORE!
    Not due for my annual ALT until July.

    Heard of stories like this?

  4. Steven Park on December 8th, 2011 5:31 pm


    Your story is not uncommon. Kudos to your husband’s doc for picking this up.

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