Losing tongue fat improves sleep apnea

A Penn Medicine study suggests the tongue could be a new target for treating the common sleep disorder.

Losing weight is an effective treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), but why exactly this is the case has remained unclear. Now, researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine have discovered that improvements in sleep apnea symptoms appear to be linked to the reduction of fat in one unexpected body part: the tongue. 

person laying in bed asleep with mouth open, their dog is laying on top of them

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the effect of weight loss on the upper airway in obese patients, researchers found that reducing tongue fat is a primary factor in reducing the severity of OSA. The findings were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“Most clinicians, and even experts in the sleep apnea world, have not typically focused on fat in the tongue for treating sleep apnea,” says Richard Schwab, chief of Sleep Medicine. “Now that we know tongue fat is a risk factor and that sleep apnea improves when tongue fat is reduced, we have established a unique therapeutic target that we’ve never had before.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.