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Study Suggests Why Sleep Apnea Is Linked to Heart Disease Risk

Submitted by New Jersey Snoring Solutions on Sat 01/23/2016 - 09:00

Sleep apnea specialists have known for a long time that obstructive sleep apnea triples the risk of cardiovascular disease. Until recently, the exact link between sleep apnea and increased risk of heart disease has been unclear. New research from Columbia University Medical Center suggests that cholesterol is the culprit, and hints at a potential solution to mitigate the risk of heart disease in people with sleep apnea.

Here, Dr. Ivan Stein of New Jersey Sleep Apnea Solutions breaks down the research and its findings.

Cholesterol Raises Risk of Heart Disease

Cholesterol is a substance found in every cell of the body. The body produces all of the cholesterol that it needs, but cholesterol can also be found in certain foods. When there is too much cholesterol in a person’s blood, it builds up in the walls of their heart arteries and increases their risk of developing coronary heart disease (as well as other systemic health problems).

Why CD59 Is Important

Normally, cells lining the blood vessels are coated in a special protein called CD59 that protects them from inflammation. When cholesterol levels are high, these proteins are more likely to remain inside of the cell instead of moving to the surface. When they are inside the cell, they cannot offer the same protection as when they are on the surface of the cell.

The Columbia team found that people with sleep apnea generally had lower numbers of CD59 on the surfaces of their endothelial cells in their cardiovascular system. This was likely due to intermittent hypoxia (i.e., not getting enough oxygen to the tissues because of repeated breathing cessation). Without the right amount of CD59 protein on the surface of the cell, the cell membrane can become damaged and the cells can become inflamed.

The team made another unexpected observation: a small number of the sleep apnea patients actually had normal numbers of CD59 on the surface of their cells. After combing through the patient demographics, the only similarity between members of that sub-group was that they were all taking statins, a drug commonly prescribed to reduce cholesterol in the blood.

The researchers hypothesized that statins preserve the levels of CD59 on the cell surface, thereby protecting the cells from injury and subsequent inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular disease.

Promise for Statins in Patients with Sleep Apnea

The Columbia study hints that statins may show promise for sleep apnea patients by reducing their risk of heart problems. Statins are already used in patients with diseases like diabetes to reduce their cardiovascular risk.

The researchers are hopeful that future clinical trials will be performed to explore the use of statins for sleep apnea. Sanja Jelic, a co-author of the Columbia study, said, “Statins are widely used and very beneficial. We think that this may be a basis for some kind of clinical trial.”

Speak to Our Sleep Apnea Team

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, or are experiencing symptoms commonly associated with the disease, please do not attempt to take statins without the supervision of a doctor. Clinical trials and doctor supervision are necessary before starting a new medication.

The team at New Jersey Sleep Apnea Solutions invites you to contact us for a consultation. Please call (855) WHY-SNORE or (855) 949-7667 to make an appointment.