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Doctors and scientists have long known that Alzheimer’s and sleep apnea are related. What they haven’t known exactly is what the connection was.
The causes and biological mechanisms were there, but researchers had yet to untangle them — until now.
Now, thanks to research led by RMIT University and published in the journal Sleep, we know not only why the two diseases go hand in hand, but what level of damage is happening in your brain if you’re living with sleep apnea…
Where Alzheimer’s damage begins
The study investigated the extent of Alzheimer’s-like indicators found in autopsied tissue from the hippocampus (the memory area of the brain) of 34 people as well as the brainstems of 24 people with obstructive sleep apnea or OSA.
This type of apnea occurs when a person’s breathing repeatedly stops during sleep. And it affects a whopping 936 million people worldwide.
The researchers were looking for signs of damage to the brain, which are common indicators of Alzheimer’s — amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. While many things about Alzheimer’s are still a mystery, we do know that these plaques are toxic to brain cells, for all intents and purposes, killing them off.
In Alzheimer’s disease, these plaques and tangles first appear in a nearby cortical area of the brain and then migrate into the hippocampus to start stealing your memories. From there, they spread to the rest of the brain’s cortex.
And the RMIT scientists hypothesized that the same type of damage was occurring in patients with sleep apnea — and they were right!
After analyzing the autopsy tissue of sleep apnea patients, they discovered identical signs of brain damage in both conditions, with both plaques and tangles starting in the same place and spreading in the same way, both in the brains of people with obstructive sleep apnea and in those with Alzheimer’s.
The bad news
Even worse news for those whose sleep apnea is classified is severe, is the fact that the study also proved that the level of brain plague buildup is directly linked to the severity of the sleep apnea.
And hold on to your hat, because it all goes downhill from there…
The team says that the results of their study also showed that treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) — the gold standard for moderate to severe sleep apnea — made no difference in the amount of plaque found in the brain.
Now that’s really disheartening. I was really hoping I could tell you that, as annoying as those CPAP machines are, they could save your brain and prevent you from losing your memories and independence to this terrible disease.
But the treatment that’s supposed to protect you from the ravages sleep apnea can wreak, fails at protecting your brain.
The good news
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should give up your CPAP machine any time soon since you have more organs to protect than just your brain.
However, it does mean that you need to find alternative ways to keep your brain healthy if you’re living with obstructive sleep apnea.
Fortunately, we live in a time when so much brain-saving research is coming to fruition.
Several nutrients available as supplements have been proven to enhance brain health. Using them strategically — in other words, making your brain health your top priority — should give you the confidence to support your brain health.
I’ve spent many years as a health researcher, and the nutrients below are the cream of the crop as far as brain health goes…
#1 — Vitamin D
Studies to date have shown that people with low levels of the sunshine vitamin in their blood are significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s as well as other forms of dementia. So be sure to take a high-quality vitamin D supplement daily.
#2 — Fish oil
Research has also discovered that high levels of the omega-3, DHA, leads to lower levels of Alzheimer’s risk. This is believed to be due to the ability of omega-3s found in fish oil to support a balanced inflammatory response. For a clean fish oil, sourced from the icy pure waters of the Arctic, consider krill oil.
#3 — Phosphatidylserine
Finally, one supplement that is not well-known to most people, called phosphatidylserine, is actually well-known in the scientific community for having the power to support memory, learning and brain health.
In fact, a multi-university study found that subjects who took PS (Phosphatidylserine) saw improvements in cognition that included reasoning, learning, memory and recalling numbers, names and faces.
This makes sense considering that phosphatidylserine is normally found in high concentrations in the brain, primarily in the neurons. It is available as a nootropic supplement.
As lead investigator Professor Stephen Robinson put it, “We know that if you have sleep apnea in midlife, you’re more likely to develop Alzheimer’s when you’re older, and if you have Alzheimer’s you are more likely to have sleep apnea than other people your age.”
So, if you’re living with sleep apnea, don’t wait to support your brain health. Every night is a chance for forces working against you to damage your brain and steal your memories.
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Vitamin D: Can it prevent Alzheimer’s & dementia? — Mayo Clinic
FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS MAY BOOST BRAIN HEALTH — Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation