THURSDAY June 12, 2008 (foodconsumer.org) -- People suffering sleep apnea showed loss in brain regions that are responsible for memory, according to a University California, Los Angeles study published in the June 27 issue of Neuroscience Letters.
Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which a person has one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while he sleeps. This condition may cause chronic daytime fatigue and memory and concentration problems.
The finding suggests that impaired breathing during sleep could cause serious brain injury that disrupts memory and thinking, said Ronald Harper, a professor of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
For the study, researchers at UCLA used MRI to examine the brains of 43 sleep apnea patients and 66 people without the disorder and found the mammillary bodies of the patients were about 20 percent smaller than those in the controls.
Harper suggested that brain cells die in sleep apnea patients because of lack of oxygen during an apnea episode.
An observer affiliated with foodconsumer.org cautioned that the study did not seem to have proved that the association between sleep apnea and shrinkage of mammillary bodies is a causal relationship, meaning that the brain condition may not necessarily result from sleep apnea. It could be that the brain condition is pre-existent leading to the sleep problem.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the following are the causes for sleep apnea:
Your throat muscles and tongue relax more than normal.
Your tongue and tonsils (tissue masses in the back of your mouth) are large compared to the opening into your windpipe.
overweight. The extra soft fat tissue can thicken the wall of the windpipe. This causes the inside opening to narrow and makes it harder to keep open.
The shape of your head and neck (bony structure) may cause a smaller airway size in the mouth and throat area.
The aging process limits the ability of brain signals to keep your throat muscles stiff during sleep. This makes it more likely that the airway will narrow or collapse.