Weight Loss Improves Sleep Apnea

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By Cile Waller

For years, doctors have told patients with sleep apnea that their best bet for alleviating the condition is to lose weight, but there has been very little research-based evidence to support that advice.

"Existing research has been limited by a number of factors, so there are very few studies that show whether the recommended amount of weight loss -- about 10 percent -- is enough to sufficiently improve sleep apnea," Gary Foster, director of the Temple University Center for Obesity Research and Education and lead author of a new study, is quoted as saying.

Foster and colleagues from six other universities recently completed a large randomized study on the effects of weight loss on sleep apnea in patients with type 2 diabetes. They found that among patients with severe sleep apnea, those who lost the recommended weight were three times more likely to dramatically reduce the number of sleep apnea episodes, compared to those who did not lose weight.

The new study, called Sleep AHEAD, looked at 264 obese patients with type 2 diabetes who were already enrolled in the Look AHEAD trial, an ongoing 16-site study investigating the long-term impact of an intensive lifestyle intervention in 5,145 overweight or obese adults with type 2 diabetes. Participants were between 45 and 75 years old.

The 264 participants were broken into two randomized groups. The first received a group behavioral weight loss program developed especially for obese patients with type 2 diabetes. This group received portion-controlled diets and a prescribed exercise regimen of 175 minutes per week. The second group attended three group informational sessions over a one-year period that focused on diabetes management through diet, physical activity and social support.

After one year, members of the first group had lost an average of 24 pounds. More than three times as many participants in the first group had complete remission of their sleep apnea (13.6 percent compared to 3.5 percent), and also experienced about half the incidents of severe sleep apnea as the second group. Participants in the second group only lost about a pound and saw significant worsening of their sleep apnea, which suggested to Foster and his team that without treatment, the disorder can progress rapidly.

"These results show that doctors as well as patients can expect a significant improvement in their sleep apnea with weight loss," Foster said. "A reduction in sleep apnea has a number of benefits for overall health and well-being."

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, September 28, 2009

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