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Tongue weight loss? It could be the key to improving sleep apnea, study says

Cat got your tongue? Maybe not, but according to a new study, fat inside your tongue may be to blame for sleep apnea.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that people can lose fat in their tongue as they drop over all body weight.

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Obesity, the study says, is the primary risk factor of sleep apnea. Tongue fat is higher in people with obesity who also repeatedly stop and start breathing in their sleep.

"The question then was if you reduce the fat in your tongue, does that improve your sleep apnea? And the answer from our paper is 'yes,'” said the study’s lead author, Penn Medicine sleep specialist Dr. Richard Schwab, to CNN.

Researchers placed 67 people with obesity and sleep apnea in a sleep study. They underwent MRI imaging to measure their airway sizes and soft tissue, tongue fat, and abdominal fat volumes before and after weight loss. Weight loss was obtained either by lifestyle changes or surgical methods.

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Measuring a 10% weight loss in patients, results showed that weight loss was associated with reductions in tongue fat. Patient’s sleep apnea scores improved by 31%, CNN reproted. MRI images showed that the less volume the individual’s tongue had after weight loss, the more their symptoms improved. Live Science reported only tongue size showed an association with relief from sleep apnea, not other measurements, like overall weight loss.

Still, Harvard Medical School reported that experts still stress weight loss is important in treating sleep apnea. According to WebMD, excess weight is the most common cause of the condition in adults. The American Sleep Apnea Association said an estimated 22 million Americans are affected by the disorder.

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