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Sleep Apnea Hurts Memory

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 3:38 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Sleep Apnea, SIDS, Heart Attack, Diabetes, Alzheimer's Disease

Sleep apnea is causing brain cell death and memory loss in patients according to UCLA researchers.



IMAGE SOURCE: Mammillary bodies (in box) of sleep apnea patient (right) are smaller than control subject (left)/ Courtesy, UCLA/Harper lab


Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the neck fail to keep the airway open.

It is involuntary and the individual usually wake himself up after about ten seconds, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

But people who have sleep apnea are experiencing more than a poor nights sleep.

Sleep apnea results in low blood oxygen levels, and now a study out of UCLA, shows that it may lead to brain injury and disrupted memory and thinking. The damage occurs in regions that help store memory.

“The reduced size of the mammillary bodies suggests that they've suffered a harmful event resulting in sizable cell loss. The fact that patients' memory problems continue despite treatment for their sleep disorder implies a long-lasting brain injury," said principal investigator Ronald Harper of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. (UCLA).

Mammillary bodies are located on the underside of the brain and are so named because they resemble small breasts.

In the study, 43 patients who experience sleep apnea had an almost 20 percent reduced size in mammillary bodies when compared to the 66 individuals without sleep apnea.

Repeated interruption in oxygen may eventually lead to brain cell death and brain injury. The cycle can repeat itself hundreds of times a night.

Alzheimer’s disease patients as well as alcoholics also show shrunken mammillary bodies. But those patients can be treated with a supplement that moves glucose into cells, preventing their death from oxygen starvation.

“Physicians treat memory loss in alcoholic patients with massive amounts of thiamine, or vitamin B1. We suspect that the dose helps dying cells to recover, enabling the brain to use them again,” says lead author Rajesh Kumar, an assistant in neurobiology.

The next step will be giving B1 supplements to patients suffering memory loss from sleep apnea.

About 20 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. The findings emphasize early diagnosis, as the condition has been linked to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

The results will be published in the late June issue of Neuroscience Letters.  #

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