Losing weight is an effective treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and now researchers have found that improvements in sleep apnea symptoms appear to be linked to the reduction of fat in the tongue. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the effect of weight loss on the upper airway in obese patients, the study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that reducing tongue fat is a primary factor in lessening the severity of OSA.
The researchers' next step was to determine if reducing tongue fat would improve symptoms and to further examine cause and effect. The new study included 67 participants with mild to severe obstructive sleep apnea who were obese those with a body mass index greater than 30.
Through diet or weight loss surgery, the patients lost nearly 10 percent of their body weight, on average, over six months. Overall, the participants' sleep apnea scores improved by 31 percent after the weight loss intervention, as measured by a sleep study. Before and after the weight loss intervention, the study participants underwent MRI scans to both their pharynx as well as their abdomens.