Friday, April 19, 2013

Why Can Sleep Apnea Cause Diabetes?

Sleep apnea is now recognized as a major risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes. In fact, if you have sleep apnea, you are more than twice as likely to develop diabetes as those who do not suffer from sleep apnea. This holds true even if you are not overweight.

When sleep and oxygen are interrupted as they are during periods of sleep apnea, this stimulates a stress response from your body. When your body responds to stress, it releases a hormone called cortisol. Over time, this repeated stress response and release of cortisol can increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as decrease insulin sensitivity (how well the body responds to insulin). This leads to insulin resistance and increased blood sugar levels.

A lack of oxygen also causes the release of a type of protein that is associated with insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. The more severe the sleep apnea, the more resistant to insulin your body becomes, which increases blood glucose.

Sleep apnea and obesity both trigger an inflammatory response in your body. With sleep apnea, your upper airways may become inflamed, as can the lining of the blood vessels (systemic inflammation). Obesity also causes systemic inflammation, as well as dyslipidemia (high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides), both of which may lead to heart disease.

In addition, sleep apnea is linked to metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, increased abdominal fat and increased fasting blood sugar levels. Metabolic syndrome doubles the risk of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries due to the buildup of plaque caused by cholesterol) and increases the risk of diabetes by five times.

Treating Sleep Apnea
One of the most common treatments for sleep apnea is CPAP, or Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. CPAP is a device that creates air pressure in the throat and keeps the airways open while a person sleeps. The CPAP machine delivers air flow through a mask placed over your nose and/or mouth while you sleep.

Studies have shown CPAP to be an extremely effective method for treating both sleep apnea and diabetes. After several months of CPAP therapy, the insulin sensitivity of study participants with Type 2 diabetes significantly increased, which led to lower blood sugar levels and lower HbA1c levels.

In addition, those who regularly use a CPAP machine also experience improved quality of sleep, less fatigue and irritability, more energy, improved concentration and fewer episodes of depression.

If you have sleep apnea, it is extremely important to seek treatment, not only to prevent or help treat diabetes, but also to decrease your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke.