[COLUMN] Snoring impacts brain

MY wife, Farida, and I have just been on a river cruise on the Vikings to historic Rouen, Omaha Beach, Normandy, and Paris (where the Faculty of Medicine at the University in Paris-Cite conducted valuable research on the effects on the brain of snoring with apnea (prolonged breath holding while asleep)), with the following findings:

“Those who snore (breath holding) can be aging their brains by years and hurting their brain health by depriving themselves of getting deep sleep. Loud snoring and obstructed breathing, often caused by sleep apnea, can lead to higher chances of exhibiting signs of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, or overall cognitive decline.”

“Tiny lesions on the brain, known as white matter hyperintensities, are biomarkers that indicate brain health, becoming more prevalent with age or uncontrolled high blood pressure.”

“Participants with severe sleep apnea had more white matter hyperintensities than those with mild or moderate conditions and demonstrated a decrease in the integrity of the axons of the brain that connect nerve cells.”

“Deep sleep is one of the best indicators of sleep quality and the study found that for every 10% decrease in deep sleep, the white matter hyperintensities increased, equivalent to the brain aging 2.3 years.”

“The same 10% reduction of deep sleep was also associated with reducing the integrity of axons, and that decrease was similar to the effect of the brain appearing 3 years older.” These findings were published in Neurology on May 10, 2023.

Snorers or not, if you do not get a restful sleep at night, consult your physician for possible Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and for a Sleep Test to determine if you actually have OSA, which would require Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), the golden standard of therapy (very effective) for those with OSA.

Sleep Apnea, when untreated, increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes T2, high blood pressure, etc., manifold. OSA which causes prolonged breath holding (could be more than 100 times a night) decreases the oxygen level in the blood, which deprives the brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and other vital organs of oxygen, resulting in various illnesses. These major diseases are prevented with the use of CPAP, among those diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.

MedWalk and brain health

A healthy diet, in this case, the Mediterranean Diet, and active lifestyle, like walking daily, lowers the risk of dementia (7th leading cause of death) and cognitive decline. A combined study, called “MedWalk,” that was just completed in 2023, revealed that following a MedWalk program diligently could reduce Alzheimer’s dementia and decline in cognition. This study (among 60- to 90-year-olds) was conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. It was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The processes and ongoing analysis were nonetheless published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. These findings are important to the whole world, where there are 55 million cases of Alzheimer’s; about 10 million a year, or one case every 3.2 seconds.

From 1990 to 2019, there was a 147.95% increase (from 2.92 million to 7.24 million). In the United States, 6.7 million (33.26 prevalence); Finland has the highest prevalence (54.56 cases per 100,000); the UK, 42.70; the Philippines, 10.6 prevalence, currently about 1 million).

The Med Diet

The diet based on the historic eating habits of people who live around the Mediterranean Sea, which the American Heart Association recommends for cardiovascular health features the following: High intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts, and very limited or abstention from added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats. Red meats, especially processed, are linked to a higher risk of cancer.

To these, the Harvard School of Public health adds the importance of healthy fats – oily fish, olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Eating meat occasionally, and eating fish at least 2-3 times a week, and small quantities of poultry, eggs, and dairy products. One or two SMALL glasses of red wine each day is part of the Mediterranean diet, for those who enjoy red wine. Personally, I prefer Pinot Noir from Oregon, one with the highest resveratrol (cardio-protective antioxidant).

Exercise: Potent weapon

Regimented physical exercise, including brisk walking, besides being effective for cardiovascular health, is also helpful in preserving cognitive function especially in old age. Studies have shown reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease (dementia and Parkinson) and also slows the progress of these illnesses after diagnosis.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, regular physical activity is “one of the most important things you can do for your health. Exercise makes us feel better – higher levels are associated with lower levels of depression, and it is thought this is due to a natural ‘high’ from the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids, which can last for some time after exercising, but the physical effects last longer. The endorphins relieve pains and may reduce inflammation and restress responses.”

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, newspaper columnist, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. He was a recipient of the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash Award in 1995, conferred by then Indiana Governor, later Senator, and then presidential candidate, Evan Bayh. Other Sagamore past awardees include President Harry Truman, President George HW Bush, Muhammad Ali, and Astronaut Gus Grissom (Wikipedia). Related websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com; Email: [email protected].


Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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