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Reductions in Tongue Fat May Help Improve Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that occurs when a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep. Symptoms include snoring and breathing pauses or choking during sleep. A recent study has found that reducing tongue fat may help improve sleep apnea symptoms in obese people.

Participants in the study included 67 adults who were obese and had mild to severe obstructive sleep apnea. They underwent a 6-month weight loss intervention, during which they lost approximately 10% of their body fat. They also underwent sleep studies before and after the weight loss intervention. In addition, they were given MRIs of the pharynx and abdomen before and after the weight loss intervention. The MRIs were used to measure airway sizes and soft tissue, tongue fat, and abdominal fat volumes.

Following the weight loss intervention, participants’ sleep apnea scores improved by an average of 31%. The researchers found that reductions in tongue fat were the primary mechanism behind improvements in the sleep apnea scores. Reductions in the volumes of the jaw muscle that controls chewing and the muscles on the sides of the airway also contributed to the improved sleep apnea scores, but to a lesser extent than the reductions in tongue fat.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. It was published online ahead of print on January 10, 2020 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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