Losing Tongue Fat Helps Tackle Sleep Apnea, As Per New Research

Losing Tongue Fat Helps Tackle Sleep Apnea, As Per New Research

New research suggests that losing fat in the tongue can enhance sleep apnea because having a fat tongue could be the main reason behind snoring, choking, grasping, or stop breathing regularly during sleep, which messes up your sleep and ultimately damages your health.

“The question then was if you reduce the fat in your tongue, does that improve your sleep apnea? And the answer from our paper is ‘yes,’ ” said Penn Medicine sleep specialist Dr. Richard Schwab, the lead author of new research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Obesity is the main risk of this illness. Previous research by Schwab and his team had demonstrated that obese people with hindering sleep apnea had significantly larger tongues with higher percentages of tongue fat than obese people that did not suffer from the condition. The new research discovered that you can lose you the fat on your tongue the same way you lose overall body fat.

“This study shows reducing excess fat, in general, can reduce tongue size,” said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep specialist at Keck Medicine at the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the study.

Losing Tongue Fat Helps Tackle Sleep Apnea

In the new study, the scientists used MRI images to calculate the impact on upper airways of a 10 percent weight loss in 67 obese patients. The images demonstrated that reducing togue fat was the main reason overall sleep apnea levels enhanced by 3 percent. “In fact, the more tongue fat you lost, the more your apnea improved,” said Schwab.

At the moment, the main treatment people receive for obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA is continuous positive air pressure, also known as CPAP therapy. People have a device over their nose and mouth that is attached to a machine that blows air into their mouths; therefore, keeping the airway from contracting.

Besides the tongue, the new research discovered that weight loss also decreased the size of the jaw muscle that manages chewing and the muscles on each part of the airway. However, none of these improvements were as impactful ​as the loss of tongue fat, Schwab explained.

“It’s a muscle which we use to talk, breathe, eat. So why should it have any fat? Yet it’s marbled with fat,” Schwab said. “We don’t understand that. We don’t know if the fat is partially genetic or partially related to obesity. But I think it’s an important factor in treating sleep apnea.”


Anna is an avid blogger with an educational background in medicine and mental health. She is a generalist with many other interests including nutrition, women's health, astronomy and photography. In her free time from work and writing, Anna enjoys nature walks, reading, and listening to jazz and classical music.

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