Live with sleep apnea? Researchers discovered another way it can impact you

August 20, 2014 in Preventive Care  •  By Miles Varn
Researchers discovered a new way in which sleep apnea can impact your health.

Up to 18 million people in the U.S. are living with sleep apnea, a condition that negatively impacts metabolism, cardiovascular function and neurological well-being. Recently, new research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggested there is one more part of the body that sleep apnea can damage: your bones.

Typically, as people age, they want to make sure they are able to live as independently as they can for as long as possible. Osteoporosis can make that goal more difficult to achieve by putting individuals at risk for disabling and sometimes fatal fractures, and new research suggests that sleep apnea increases the likelihood of this bone-weakening disease.

Osteoporosis decreases the quality of life
More than 40 million people in the U.S. either have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing the condition. One of the reasons osteoporosis is so dangerous is that you may not know you have it until you actually break a bone because of a fall, a minor bump or trying to lift something heavy.

Although any bone can break, fractures caused by osteoporosis most often occur in the hips, spine and wrists. Hip fractures are particularly serious. Half of people who suffer a broken hip will be unable to walk without assistance, and one-fifth of people who sustain a hip fracture past the age of 50 will die within a year because of health complications.

Osteoporosis can also weaken the bones in the spine, leading to chronic back pain.

Common risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • advanced age
  • family history of the condition
  • low levels of estrogen in women
  • low levels of testosterone in men
  • inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D
  • lack of exercise
  • smoking
  • excessive alcohol consumption.

Sleep apnea deprives the bones of oxygen
One team of researchers from Taiwan wanted to investigate whether there was also a link between osteoporosis and obstructive sleep apnea. People who have this condition experience disruptions in their sleep when their airways get blocked, causing them to wake up briefly several times throughout the night.

For their study, the researchers reviewed the health records of more than 1,300 people with sleep apnea, and compared them to the records of more than 20,000 others who did not have this condition. Results showed that the rate of osteoporosis was 2.7 times higher among those who had the sleep disorder. The risk increase was particularly high among women and older patients.

One possible explanation for the link between obstructive sleep apnea and osteoporosis is that the condition deprives the body of oxygen, according to the researchers. This may cause the bones to weaken. The study authors emphasized that people who have sleep disorders need to be more cognizant of their bone health.

If you experience the symptoms of sleep apnea, a personal health advisor can help direct you to physicians who can help you manage this condition and protect the strength of your bones. Your advisor can also work with you to create a personalized healthcare plan designed to help you strengthen your bones. This plan may include:

  • a diet that is more abundant in calcium and vitamin D
  • appropriate levels of exercise
  • fall prevention measures around the house.

To learn more about why sleep is essential to health, and what strategies you can use to sleep better, click here.