OSA and Aging

You may already know that sleep apnea can cause an increased risk of chronic illness, high blood pressure and even some forms of cancer. But can sleep apnea affect how you age?

Researchers at the Department of Child Health at the University of Missouri School of Medicine say yes, because inflammation caused by the condition can negatively affect health.

‘Getting enough sleep each night is critical for how we age,’ said Dr. Sean Endsley, a Waco, Texas, dentist.

The study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, takes a long look at obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and inflammation caused by the condition and how that inflammation can damage organs.

The results found that OSA keeps the body in a low-intensity inflammatory state, which can wreak havoc on the body.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects millions of Americans, many of whom are undiagnosed.

The condition is caused when the airway becomes blocked during sleep. In most cases, blockages are caused by collapsed throat tissues or the tongue falling back to block the airway.

Whatever the cause, the result is stress on the body.

‘There’s a lot of stress on the body as a result of sleep apnea,’ Endsley said.

The authors conclude that OSA should be considered a low-grade chronic inflammatory disease, as well as a sleep breathing disorder.

OSA triggers chronic inflammation because low oxygen levels and reduced ventilation tell the immune system something is wrong and to respond.

Inflammation can affect how the cardiovascular systems function, neurocognition and metabolism, and can lead to diabetes, kidney disease, eye health issues, joint problems and cancer.

The researchers focused on two specific pro-inflammatory indicators, called cytokines, or substances secreted by specific cells of the immune system. By understanding how these substances work, the researchers were able to better understand how inflammation affected the body and how they could treat sleep apnea.

Conventional treatments for OSA include the use of the continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP), surgery to remove air obstruction and oral appliance therapy to help keep the airway open during sleep.

But the researchers hope that antioxidants and other inflammation reducers that can heal the damage caused by inflammation and help to protect organs will also be part of sleep apnea therapy.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia. ‘Obstructive sleep apnea linked to inflammation, organ dysfunction: Mechanisms of apnea-related inflammation.’ ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2019.