A Better Treatment for Sleep Apnea

The title of a little blurb by Susan T. Lennon in the USA Weekend supplement to our paper last week caught my eye:

Blood Pressure: Your snoring may keep it high

Ms. Lennon described a study done at the University of Alabama at Birmingham which showed that 85% of people with resistant hypertension (meaning hasn’t responded to medications, exercise, and a low-fat, low-salt diet) also suffered from obstructive sleep apnea. The researchers also added that treating the apnea improved the blood pressure.

Ms. Lennon has got it wrong in the title, however. The snoring doesn’t keep blood pressure up, if it did, you could control resistant high blood pressure with Breathe Right strips. Granted, the stress of lower oxygen from the apnea could maybe contribute to elevating the blood pressure, but a more reasonable explanation is that the snoring and the blood pressure are caused by the same thing.

Sleep apnea is a potentially lethal condition in which the sufferer quits breathing for sustained periods during sleep. In most instances, the periods of apnea (lack of breathing) are interrupted by loud snoring and often thrashing about. Sometimes, however, the lack of oxygen during the stretches of apnea trigger heart rhythm disturbances that can prove fatal. For this reason, identifying and treating sleep apnea is of critical importance. To learn more about it, click here.

Anyone who snores loudly, thrashes about when sleeping, particularly if overweight, should be examined with sleep studies for apnea. It can truly be a matter of life and death.

Traditional treatment for sleep apnea usually involves the strict use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine when sleeping to keep the air moving in and out. It’s an effective, if not especially convenient, therapy. And it may be necessary in the short term, but, in the long term, there’s an easier way.

Interstingly, both sleep apnea and high blood pressure are components of the metabolic syndrome–i.e., they’re diseases of insulin-resistance. Consequently, solving the underlying metabolic disorder–the insulin resistance–will usually solve both of the problems. In our medical practice over the years, we had numbers of patients who, after having been tethered to their CPAP machine for years were able to discontinue its use by losing weight on a low carb diet. People with high blood pressure were usually able to control it and discontinue their medications on a low carb diet. And, as the U of Alabama researchers discovered, there’s a lot of overlap in these two groups.

I recall one of our patients (about whom we wrote in Protein Power) who had logged over 18,000 hours on his CPAP machine and whose blood pressure was barely controlled on two medications, a high-carb low-fat diet, and lots of exercise. In the course of roughly 6 months on low carb, he was able to lose about 100 pounds, discontinue his meds, and liberate himself from his machine.

No more CPAP tether, no more pills, just a sensible eating regimen. As we’ve always said: give the body the correct food to eat and, in most cases, it will heal itself.

The low carb diet is a potent therapy for these disorders, but with one caveat, and it’s a BIGGIE.

If you currently take medications for blood pressure or blood sugar or use a CPAP machine for apnea, ask your physician to help you adjust your medications or therapies when you’re ready to begin low carb
.

If you suffer from high blood pressure and adopt a low carb diet while taking medications to lower blood pressure, your pressure could fall dangerously low. Put less delicately, you could fall over on your face with low blood pressure. (The same is true for blood sugar lowering medications, but that’s another story.)

And the flip side is also true. Don’t just decide to discontinue your own blood pressure medicines, either. It’s not safe to do on your own, because some blood pressure medications have to be discontinued slowly–tapered off–or will cause potentially dangerous blood pressure spikes.

Approached properly–that means with a doctor’s knowledge and supervision–there is no more effective remedy for these two disorders than a low carb diet. It’s powerful stuff! It’s a shame Ms. Lennon didn’t bother to mention it.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “A Better Treatment for Sleep Apnea

  1. Definitely a shame she didn’t mention it, but not at all surprising as for some reason people refuse to see what is right in front of them. A type of blindness called stupidity. When I was obese I couldn’t sleep in a bed. I spent 8 years sleeping in a recliner; it never occurred to me I might have had sleep apnea. 3 years ago it wasn’t mentioned all that much. It was a red letter day when I had lost enough weight to sleep in a bed again and I went out and bought an adjustable one. I also have allergies that make it difficult to breathe. I have now lost 140 lbs and can’t see ever living any other way. Low carb was a life saver for me! Thank you for your wonderful blog. It truely helps keep me motivated and informed and kowledge is a powerful thing. Oh, the recliner sits unused in a corner of my living room now, an ever present remider of my fat days!

    COMMENT from MD Eades: Three cheers to you for your phenomenal success in reclaiming your life, not to mention a bed to sleep in once again. Your story serves as an inspiration to all who suffer with morbid obesity and/or sleep apnea.

  2. Thanks for posting this Mary!

    Diagnosed in Apr07 with OSA with malignant hypertension (225/130 when I used to have 90-105/65-75 *sigh*), & BG >200, I was neither healthy nor happy. All following pneumonia 18 mos. earlier.

    Diuetics produced a 7.5 # overnight wt loss, then nothing & no appreciable BP drop during the next 30 days. Got an emWave personal trainer from HeartMath Institure and saw BP drops to 170/80. Started ACE inhibitor and wow, wow, wow, BP dropped to 140-160/70. After weeks of non-stop coughing which only moderated with codeine so I could sleep, I was switched to Cozaar (ARF) which is much better. However, it affects my short-term memory and makes me sorta aphasic as I say words that are close but not the right word — kept thinking there’s gotta be a bettet answer to this while I’m in the worst of this physical mess as I get the weight off.

    Started NCPAP 55 days ago and it’s made a huge difference in alertness and unwanted daytime falling asleep. BP is now ranging 130-150/55-70 and my hair stopped falling out (thank goodness!). I’m having trouble retaining potassium and magnesium (and I take 400 mgs/day mag citrate in divided doses!). Eating 1/3 cup dried apricots is just waay too much carb but delivers the potassium I so desperately need! Dropping the diuretic and watching my BP as recommended by my apnea specialist as it might start dropping even more. When diastolic is under 60, I start worrying.

    This article makes me hopeful that if I get my mineral levels back up, I can drop the apricots
    and start counting carbs again. Seems to me I felt best eating 45-55 gms/day (why does it seem so many of us all gradually eat more and forgetting what a bad decision that is? *sigh*).

    Oh, glycolsylated hemo was 7, not great but not the worst. Have no idea what it is now that my #s are getting better and I’m eating less carb each day. Lost 8% of body wt, got lots to go.

    Again, that’s for the article!

  3. It’s amazing how much is being discovered these days about sleep apnea and its effects on health. I think people are only truly beginning to discover how much it adversely affects health and contributes to premature death. Education of both patients and doctors is the key to stop sleep apnea.