The Deadly Effect of Sleep Apnea

According to a new study, a loss of brain cells -- causing patients to stop breathing -- may be a reason some elderly folks die in their sleep, and sleep apnea could be the key to understanding it. Where sleep apnea comes in: This condition in which patients stop breathing for long periods of time while they're sleeping can be caused by the death of cells in the brain stem where functions like breathing are controlled.

Using rats, UCLA scientists deliberately killed cells in the region of the brain believed to be where breathing is controlled. Once rats entered the rapid eye movement (REM) phase, their breathing stopped, forcing them to awaken. Eventually, those lapses in breathing got so severe, they began occurring even while the rats were awake.

Researchers speculate the region of brain that controls breathing contains a fixed number of neurons, meaning elderly patients lose them with age and some become more prone to the effects of sleep apnea.

There are ways you can limit the effect sleep apnea may have on your health, however. If you haven't done so, normalize your weight by retooling your diet based on your body's unique nutritional type and eliminating grains and sugars.

Don't forget, oxidation is one of the major mechanisms of aging and it is facilitated by free radicals. Antioxidants, readily available and better for you in whole foods, are one of the best ways to counter the age-accelerating damage that free radicals produce and can help protect your body from nearly every chronic degenerative disease including cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

MSNBC August 8, 2005

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