Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea, and occurs from partial or complete obstructions in the upper airway. This condition is marked by difficulty breathing during sleep has been linked to a variety of conditions including depression, stroke, type two diabetes, as well as an increased risk of heart attacks. This increased risk of heart attack has always raised some eyebrows. As Dr. Sanja Jelic of Columbia University puts it, “”Why would such a relatively mild [but repetitive] decrease in oxygen cause cardiovascular disease in contrast to other lung diseases that cause more severe [loss of oxygen] but don’t increase risk for cardiovascular disease?” Doctors and researchers have entertained many different theories as to the link between sleep apnea and heart attack, but a recent study from Dr. Jelic and his colleagues published in Science Translational Medicine claims to have identified that link: cholesterol.
Why Cholesterol is Key
Dr. Jelic and his team observed that the rise and fall of oxygen levels associated with OSA started in the cells lining our blood vessels, and the only way that this could be happening is if there was some kind of change to the cell wall in those cells. The researchers found a protein, called CD59, on the surface of these cells is decreased in patients with OSA. What is interesting though, is that patients who were using statins to maintain their cholesterol had normal levels of the CD59 protein.
For their study, the researchers put blood vessel cells in a chamber that alternated between normal and low levels of oxygen. This alternation of oxygen levels created a buildup of cholesterol inside of the cells. The cells then begin to suck the CD59 from the membrane of the cell wall in turn lowering the protection that the protein offers. Once this protection is gone, the cells become inflamed and lead to an increased risk of heart attack. The researchers theorize that this inflammation can be avoided through the use of cholesterol-controlling statins.
One Side of the Coin
While controlling the risk of heart attack is a major victory for those dealing with OSA, it is only one side of the coin. Whether you visit a sleep physician or are using a less traditional method such as an app, catching sleep apnea early is key to minimizing the damaging ailments that come with it.
It is also equally important to adhere to the method of treatment that is recommended for you. With that being said, many people find that traditional treatments for sleep apnea, such as CPAP, are cumbersome and difficult to use. For those that are dissatisfied with their CPAP, alternatives such as dental appliances are a great alternative that work just as well for maintaining an unobstructed airflow while you sleep.
If you are in the Austin area and are struggling with sleep apnea, please consider visiting Dr. Dan Matthews at Dan Matthews, DDS. He can help you achieve the good night’s sleep that you deserve. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us today at (512) 452-2273.