In the Journals

Reducing tongue fat could improve sleep apnea

Rich Schwab
Richard J. Schwab

Losing tongue fat was associated with improvements in sleep apnea severity, a recent study showed. The findings suggest that tongue fat could be a new therapeutic target for sleep apnea treatment, according to researchers.

“Our data show that reductions in tongue fat mediate the improvement in apnea hypopnea index (AHI) — the metric we use for sleep apnea — with weight loss,” Richard J. Schwab, MD, chief of Sleep Medicine at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told Healio Primary Care.

“Tongue fat should be considered a risk factor for sleep apnea and explains some of the relationship between obesity and sleep apnea,” he continued.

Previously, Schwab and colleagues found that patients with obstructive sleep apnea had larger tongues and more tongue fat than patients without obstructive sleep apnea.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recruited participants with obesity and obstructive sleep apnea who were undergoing bariatric surgery or lifestyle modification for weight loss to investigate whether changes in tongue fat correlate with reductions in AHI. They examined polysomnography results and MRIs of participants’ pharynx and abdomens to measure airway sizes, soft tissue volumes and abdominal fat volumes before weight loss treatment or surgery and again 6 months later.

Image of woman with sleep disorder 
Losing tongue fat was associated with improvements in sleep apnea severity, a recent study showed. The findings suggest that tongue fat could be a new therapeutic target for sleep apnea treatment, according to researchers.
Source: Adobe Stock

A total of 67 participants were included in the study, 70.1% of whom lost at least 2.5% of their body weight (average change = –14.5 ± 8.5%; P < 0.0001). Participants who lost weight experienced reductions in AHI score compared with those who did not (–23.3 ± 21.9; P < 0.0001).

Researchers identified significant differences in tongue fat, pterygoid volume and total lateral wall volume between participants who did and did not lose weight.

Among participants, greater loss of tongue fat was associated with greater decreases in AHI. This result was similar after controlling for weight change, which implies that decreased tongue fat is independently linked to decreased AHI, according to the study authors.

Schwab and colleagues determined that tongue fat volume was the primary upper airway mediator in the association between change in weight and AHI, with changes in tongue fat accounting for approximately 30% of the impact weight loss had on improved AHI.

The findings suggest that tongue fat could be a new therapeutic target for sleep apnea, according to the study authors.

Aside from general weight loss, Schwab told Healio Primary Care that potential treatment options being studied that target tongue fat include low-fat diets, upper airway or pharyngeal exercises and cold therapy. – by Erin Michael

Disclosures: Schwab reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.

Rich Schwab
Richard J. Schwab

Losing tongue fat was associated with improvements in sleep apnea severity, a recent study showed. The findings suggest that tongue fat could be a new therapeutic target for sleep apnea treatment, according to researchers.

“Our data show that reductions in tongue fat mediate the improvement in apnea hypopnea index (AHI) — the metric we use for sleep apnea — with weight loss,” Richard J. Schwab, MD, chief of Sleep Medicine at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told Healio Primary Care.

“Tongue fat should be considered a risk factor for sleep apnea and explains some of the relationship between obesity and sleep apnea,” he continued.

Previously, Schwab and colleagues found that patients with obstructive sleep apnea had larger tongues and more tongue fat than patients without obstructive sleep apnea.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recruited participants with obesity and obstructive sleep apnea who were undergoing bariatric surgery or lifestyle modification for weight loss to investigate whether changes in tongue fat correlate with reductions in AHI. They examined polysomnography results and MRIs of participants’ pharynx and abdomens to measure airway sizes, soft tissue volumes and abdominal fat volumes before weight loss treatment or surgery and again 6 months later.

Image of woman with sleep disorder 
Losing tongue fat was associated with improvements in sleep apnea severity, a recent study showed. The findings suggest that tongue fat could be a new therapeutic target for sleep apnea treatment, according to researchers.
Source: Adobe Stock

A total of 67 participants were included in the study, 70.1% of whom lost at least 2.5% of their body weight (average change = –14.5 ± 8.5%; P < 0.0001). Participants who lost weight experienced reductions in AHI score compared with those who did not (–23.3 ± 21.9; P < 0.0001).

Researchers identified significant differences in tongue fat, pterygoid volume and total lateral wall volume between participants who did and did not lose weight.

Among participants, greater loss of tongue fat was associated with greater decreases in AHI. This result was similar after controlling for weight change, which implies that decreased tongue fat is independently linked to decreased AHI, according to the study authors.

Schwab and colleagues determined that tongue fat volume was the primary upper airway mediator in the association between change in weight and AHI, with changes in tongue fat accounting for approximately 30% of the impact weight loss had on improved AHI.

The findings suggest that tongue fat could be a new therapeutic target for sleep apnea, according to the study authors.

Aside from general weight loss, Schwab told Healio Primary Care that potential treatment options being studied that target tongue fat include low-fat diets, upper airway or pharyngeal exercises and cold therapy. – by Erin Michael

Disclosures: Schwab reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.