I was amazed to come across this research that wasn't published in the "lame-stream" media for some reason, so I'm happy to warn you about it now. It stated that the part of the brain that stores memory appears to shrink in people with sleep apnea, adding further evidence that the sleep and breathing disorder is a serious health risk.
The findings, from brain scan studies conducted, last year, by researchers at the University of California, in L.A., shows for the first time that sleep apnea is associated with tissue loss in the brain regions that store memory. And while the thinking and focus problems of sleep apnea patients often are attributed to sleep deprivation, the scans show something far more insidious is occurring.
Sleep apnea occurs when muscles in the throat, soft palate and tongue relax during sleep. They sag and narrow the airway and the tongue slides to the back of the mouth, blocking the windpipe and cutting off oxygen to the lungs. The sleeper gasps for air, wakes up briefly and falls back to sleep in a cycle that repeats itself hundreds of times per night. The result is loud snoring and chronic daytime fatigue. The disorder also is linked to a higher risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
The study focused on structures on the underside of the brain called mammillary bodies. so named because they resemble small breasts. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of over 100 subjects and found the brains of the sleep apnea patients had mammillary bodies that were nearly 20 percent smaller. These structures are also known to shrink in people who have other forms of memory loss related to alcoholism and Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers have a theory why the sleep disorder affects the brain tissue this way. They say it's related to the repeated drops in oxygen during the apnea episode. The brain's blood vessels constrict, starving the tissue of oxygen and causing cells to die. This leads to a form of inflammation that is also linked with heart disease and stroke, further damaging the tissue. The fact that patients' memory problems continue despite treatment for their sleep disorder implies a long-lasting brain injury.
The Way I See It....is that the data shows the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of the sleep apnea. Unfortunately, the most effective treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. To accomplish this, there is a machine and face mask apparatus that many patients find unwieldy and uncomfortable. In a future study, the U.C.L.A researchers will explore whether Vitamin B1 supplements might help restore memory in sleep apnea patients by moving glucose into cells and thereby preventing cell death. Here's hoping.