Is Your Tongue Fat?

March 2nd, 2020
tongue fat

Do you snore loudly and often feel tired even after a full night’s sleep? You may suffer from Sleep Apnea – a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. If you have Sleep Apnea, you may want to lose tongue fat.

Losing weight is an effective treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), but why exactly this is the case has remained unclear. Now, researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that improvements in Sleep Apnea symptoms appear to be linked to the reduction of fat in one unexpected body part — the tongue.

“Most clinicians, and even experts in the sleep apnea world, have not typically focused on fat in the tongue for treating sleep apnea,” said Richard Schwab, MD, chief of Sleep Medicine. “Now that we know tongue fat is a risk factor and that sleep apnea improves when tongue fat is reduced, we have established a unique therapeutic target that we’ve never had before.”

A 2014 study led by Schwab compared obese patients with and without sleep apnea, and found that the participants with Sleep Apnea had significantly larger tongues and a higher percentage of tongue fat when compared to those without Sleep Apnea.  The study also found that weight loss resulted in reduced pterygoid (a jaw muscle that controls chewing) and pharyngeal lateral wall (muscles on the sides of the airway) volumes. Both these changes also improved sleep apnea, but not to the same extent as the reduction in tongue fat.

The authors believe that tongue fat is a potential new therapeutic target for improving sleep apnea. They suggest that future studies could be designed to explore whether certain low-fat diets are better than others in reducing tongue fat.

As a Certified Athletic Trainer for more than 30 years and the founder of Fitness for Health, a therapeutic fitness facility that uses innovative exergaming technology, I am often asked, “How can I keep the weight off and facilitate weight management?”  It’s simple – exercise. 

Regular physical activity is essential for good health and healthy weight management. The key to success is to find physical activities that you enjoy and then to aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity or athletic training every day.  Make it a family endeavor!  Exercise as a family.  Play a quick game of basketball after lunch on a weekend, plan a pajama Zumba party in the living room or take the pets for a walk.  You don’t have to use a Stair Master to get a great workout.  You just need to use your imagination.

If you want to maintain a healthy weight, build muscle and lose fat, the best path is a lifelong combination of eating smarter and getting moving.

Learn more about how Fitness for Health can help you create a customized fitness program using personal training that is fun for the whole family (kids too) while combating obesity and increasing bone and joint health. 

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