Research shows that although sleep apnea is common among Blacks, it is largely undiagnosed (nearly 95 percent of cases, were undiagnosed and untreated). Sleep apnea has an ever-growing list of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic health disorders. Now new data shows it ages you.
“This highlights the need for both detection of the sleep apnea and for the efficient treatment of the sleep apnea,” says study author Rene Cortese, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri.
“Even people that are being treated, sometimes CPAP is not the most comfortable treatment and people don’t adhere to the treatment that they’re supposed to, but this highlights the need for an efficient treatment,” he adds.
What is sleep apnea and how does it affect aging?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which the upper airway is blocked during sleep, causing breathing problems and repeated awakenings. It can be caused by a person’s physical structure or other health conditions and can affect oxygen levels in the blood.
The standard treatment is using a CPAP machine. Through a mask covering the nose and mouth, a patient’s airways are kept open to receive a steady flow of oxygen so he or she can breathe normally.
The new study looked at apnea along with a phenomenon known as epigenetic age acceleration. Simply put, it means that a person’s biological age is older than their age in years. It’s linked to chronic diseases and early death.
The researchers recruited 24 nonsmokers between 28 and 58 years of age — 16 who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and eight who had not. All underwent a sleep study. Their blood and DNA was analyzed using a computer algorithm to measure their biological age. Individuals were then retested after a year of CPAP use.
Cortese says sleep apnea speeds up the aging process through oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. While prior sleep disruptions and lower oxygen levels had accelerated apnea patients’ biological aging, regular CPAP treatment had paid off.
“At least partially it will slow down the aging effect of the sleep apnea,” Cortese shares.
Epigenetic clocks are tissue-specific so what’s happening with one organ might not be the same in another, but blood is systemic, which is