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Posted on Fri, Apr 13, 2012 : 5 a.m.

Weight loss helps control sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes

By Ask Dr. K


I was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Then, shortly afterward, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Could the two be related?


One way they could be related is if you are overweight. The heavier you are, the greater your risk of both conditions.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It usually develops during adulthood among people who are overweight. Being overweight causes your cells to resist the effects of insulin, a hormone that drives sugar (glucose) from the blood into cells.

When that happens, sugar builds up in your blood. If this happens consistently, you can develop Type 2 diabetes.

Obstructive sleep apnea is common. One study estimated that about a quarter of all adults in the United States have, or are at risk for developing, this condition. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs because the upper airway -- particularly the back of the throat and tongue -- relaxes too much during sleep. This causes repeated interruptions to breathing. Oxygen levels in your blood may drop because airflow into your lungs is blocked.

The symptoms of this condition include snoring and snorting during sleep. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, someone watching you sleep (like your spouse) may notice periods of 15-40 seconds when you don't seem to be breathing. If this happens more than 30 times an hour, the condition is considered severe. During the day, you may have sleepiness and difficulty concentrating. The condition is more common in men than women, and more common in adults as they get older.

Even though we know that being overweight increases your risk of both sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes, we don't know whether sleep apnea might somehow increase your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes, or vice versa.

There is some evidence from studies in animals and humans that sleep apnea also causes chemical changes that lead to insulin resistance. However, I don't think the evidence is very strong.

If you have Type 2 diabetes and you're overweight, you can help control the condition by losing weight. In fact, I've had patients who eliminated their Type 2 diabetes just by slimming down. Losing weight can also help with sleep apnea.

If you have tried and failed to lose weight on your own, ask your doctor to hook you up with a nutritionist or dietitian who can assess your eating habits and start you on an exercise program. Many of my patients find that being part of weight-loss groups, with other people like themselves, helps them to lose weight.

Losing weight through a healthy diet and a regular exercise program can not only improve both sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes; it also can protect you against heart disease, stroke and several kinds of cancer.

(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information:

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Ann English

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 12:26 a.m.

Nobody, not even Dr. Arthur Agatston, tells us how overweight can lead to diabetes like you did above. Just that it does lead to heart disease and diabetes.