What is it?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects some 18 million Americans and can be very serious if not treated. People with this disorder stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time while they are sleeping, possibly as many as 400 times each night. These periods of not breathing often wake people from deep sleep, seriously reducing the amount of necessary rest they are actually getting.
Those with sleep apnea typically suffer progressive fatigue, tiredness, malaise, depression, and muscle stiffness. Sleep apnea is associated with increased of risk heart attack and stroke. In addition, this common disorder can lead to disability and death (e.g. falling asleep at the wheel while driving).
Treatment typically involves use of dental devices, equipment that increases air pressure to increase restful breathing during sleep, and weight loss.
What causes it?
Obstructive sleep apnea is what 9 out of 10 people with sleep apnea have and is caused by something blocking the passage or windpipe (called the trachea) that brings air into your body. That something may be:
- The tongue, tonsils, or the uvula (the small piece of flesh hanging down in the back of the throat).
- Excessive fatty tissue in the throat; many of those with sleep apnea are obese.
- Abnormally relaxed throat muscles, due to poor function of the nerves from the lower brain that control breathing and swallowing. Evidence suggests that the poor nerve function is related to abnormal metabolism.
What role might cytokines play?
The exact role that cytokines have on sleep in unknown. Studies show that most sleep apnea patients have excess levels of cytokines associated with inflammation, which attach directly to nerve cells in the brain, including the areas that control breathing and swallowing.
What results could I expect with MNT?
MNT is the first line of treatment recommended in obese or overweight patients with sleep disorders. Patients using the Plan note improvement in fatigue by the end of Food Phases 1 and 2 of the 7 to 14 day Plans.
With MNT many patients can eventually discontinue annoying and expensive sleep devices. To many people’s surprise, nutritional diets appear to be far more important that weight loss in treating sleep apnea. In most patients, improvement in fatigue and snoring diminishes long before large weight loss is noted. In fact, patients who undergo gastric bypass operations often can stop using special breathing devices for sleep apnea within weeks – long before they experience significant weight loss.
How can I measure symptom change on the plan?
First, you need to be clear about what may be causing your sleep apnea. Although rare, there is a second type of sleep apnea (central sleep apnea) that occurs when the muscles you use to breathe fail for some reason to receive the signal to do so from your brain. You should work with your physician to clearly identify which type of sleep apnea you have and what would be the best treatment approach. Talk with your doctor about the effects that MNT may have on your treatment. Next, you want to measure how severe each of the two key sleep apnea symptoms are for you. This will give you a baseline to compare with future measurements.
Most importantly, you (and your doctor) need a way to measure progress over time. Talk with your doctor at each regular visit about your symptoms and how they might change using the Plan.