May 20, 2013
As the baby boomer generation ages, it’s not surprising that more and more people complain of memory problems. Here’s an article that describes the results of a survey which revealed that nearly 13% of people 60 or over reported confusion or memory loss which has worsened over the past 12 months. So far there are no definitive studies that suggest that untreated obstructive sleep apnea can cause Alzheimer’s disease (no scientific study will ever propose cause and effect), but based on how prevalent obstructive sleep apnea is in our country, and knowing how much sleep apnea causes various types of brain damage, it’s not too far fetched to say that untreated obstructive sleep apnea may explain a significant number of cases of memory loss or dementia. Anecdotally, many of my patients do report improved memory after sleep apnea treatment.
May 13, 2013
Here’s another study showing a strong association between poor sleep and cancer: An Icelandic study found that men with problems falling asleep had a 70% increased risk of developing prostate cancer, and a 210% increased risk if they had trouble staying asleep. Associations were even stronger for more advanced prostate cancers. Note that I wrote about this possibility in my book, Sleep, Interrupted, which was published in 2008.
May 2, 2013
There have been more and more studies showing an association between sleep duration or sleep apnea with increased cancer risk. In this study, longer sleep duration was associated with increased colon cancer risk in people who snored or were overweight. As we know from cancer research studies, hypoxia is a major mechanism of cancer progression. Whether you stop breathing repeatedly throughout the night, or have increased levels of stress from not sleeping long enough, lower levels of oxygen can result.
April 10, 2013
In this teleseminar, I interview Dr. A. Joseph Borelli, who is President and Medical director of MRI at Belfair, in Bluffton, SC. He is a leading expert in brain imaging and has an interest in brain imaging in patients with obstructive sleep apnea. He’s going to show some eye-opening radiologic images of your brain after repeated apneas.
Please fill in your information below to access the free MP3 recording:
October 28, 2012
The origins of autism is a very controversial subject, but I’ve always suspected that that there are a number of different ways that poor breathing and lack of brain oxygenation can be detrimental to optimal brain development. Here’s a study showing that pregnant women who are obese were 67% more likely to have children with autism compared to normal weight mothers. This study also revealed that mothers with diabetes were nearly twice as likely as healthy mothers to have children with developmental disorders. Their explanation is that diabetes and obesity causes inflammatory chemicals to cross the placenta to disrupt fetal brain development. While this could be true, having prolonged periods of hypoxia from untreated obstructive sleep apnea in pregnant women is an even better reason for a potential developmental brain disorders, as well as diabetes.
July 19, 2012
Almost every week, I come across another study that links poor sleep or sleep apnea to dementia. Here’s a paper that shows that sleep deprivation increases beta amyloid production. Beta amyloid plaques are what accumulates in dementia and alzheimer’s disease, and is the current hot topic in Alzheimer’s research.
This paper showed that chronic intermittent hypoxia increases beta amyloid production in the hippocampus, and that giving melatonin eliminated this amyloid plague buildup. Melatonin is a critical brain hormone that regulates sleep. Hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, is one of the hallmarks of obstructive sleep apnea.
Lastly, this landmark study showed that having sleep-disordered breathing was found to be significantly associated with developing mild cognitive impairment or demential.
Researchers are finally waking up to the fact that sleep apnea may be an important aspect of dementia and that amyoid plaque buildup may be just a marker of poor sleep, rather than being the cause of dementia.
June 10, 2012
Experts estimate that about 2.7 million people in the US suffer from seizures. About 1/3 do not respond or respond poorly to anti-seizure medications. A new trend is to prescribe steroids as an anti-inflammatory medication based on the finding that people with seizures have more inflammation in the brain.
A New York Times article details the current research in the link between inflammation and seizures. As I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think how may of these people with seizures have untreated obstructive sleep apnea. Numerous studies have shown a link between obstructive sleep apnea and seizures. In fact, sleep deprivation is known to lower your seizure threshold, meaning that you’re more likely to suffer epilepsy given your various risk factors. Other studies have shown significantly improved seizures after treating for obstructive sleep apnea.
We know from countless studies that obstructive sleep apnea causes major inflammation in the brain. This can be from hypoxia, micro strokes, small vessel clotting, and thickened blood viscosity. Yes, blocking inflammation (the end result) can seem to help, but you’re not really getting to the root cause of the problem. I’m not saying that all forms of seizures are caused by sleep-breathing disorders, but even if 25% have undiagnosed sleep apnea, that’s a very large number of people with epilepsy that can be treated.
I’ve written here before about seizures and sleep apnea. One thing that I notice is that the upper airway in patients with a seizure diagnosis is much more narrow than normal. Most of these patients prefer to sleep on their sides or stomach. This supports my theory that they are prone to breathing problems at night.
If you know anyone who has epilepsy, do they snore, or have parents that snore? Do they sleep on their back, side or stomach?
May 23, 2012
Up until recently, there were only weak associations between obstructive sleep apnea cancer. Now, a new large-scale population study reported that having severe untreated obstructive sleep apnea can increase your odds of dying from cancer by almost 5 times. I’ve written numerous times about how the pathways of cancer and cardiovasular disease is similar: apneas lead to hypoxia and oxidative stress. Physiologic stress also leads to chronic hypoxia while awake in certain preferential areas of the body that are considered “low-priority” such as skin, reproductive and digestive systems. Notice how the most common cancers arise in these particular organ systems. Relatively speaking, rarely do you see someone dying from bone, heart or brain cancers. Lung cancer is the exception, since most are caused by smoking. But if you did develop lung cancer, you’re more likely to die, or not respond to therapy as well, or suffer complications if you have undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea, .
In my book (Sleep Interrupted) that I published almost 4 years ago, I wrote an entire chapter on how sleep-breathing problems can potentially cause cancer. Parts of the body that are chronically oxygen deprived will send out numerous signals to help recruit blood flow by building new blood vessels. Once such messenger that’s well studied is called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). You can imagine how this process can cause local benign tissue growth, but one mutation or genetic insult can suddenly trigger malignant transformation. Not only is hypoxia a potential carcinogen, sleep deprivation from shift work is also classified to be a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
It’s important to remember that this study is a population-based retrospective analysis, and doesn’t prove cause and effect. Despite this, I’m confident that many more studies will be performed showing even stronger cancer-sleep apnea associations. Besides an increased risk heart disease, stroke, heart attack, car accidents and sudden death, there’s one more major reason to have your sleep apnea treated effectively: cancer.
September 20, 2011
Here’s a new study out of Japan showing that people with uncontrolled diabetes had about a 35% increased risk of developing dementia. The article talks about how diabetes can cause clogging and blocking of the arteries, leading to lack of oxygen and brain damage. But guess what else causes lack of oxygen? Obstructive sleep apnea. Hypoxia has been shown to cause brain damage in numerous sleep apnea as well as Alzheimer’s research studies. As always, researchers are careful to point out that association never implies causality.
August 11, 2011
Here’s an important study that must be taken seriously. Researchers from UCSF and various other institutions showed that in elderly women, having sleep apnea significantly increases your risk of developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia compared to those women who don’t have sleep apnea. In a study of 298 women as part of an osteoporosis study that underwent sleep studies, 105 (32%) were found to have significant obstructive sleep apnea (AHI >15). After 5 years, women with sleep apnea had a higher rate of cognitive impairment or dementia (44.8%) than those without sleep apnea (31.1%).
Knowing what we already know about sleep apnea and how it can ravage the brain, these results are not surprising.