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Abdominal Fat in Men Linked to Sleep Apnea

By Dr. Michael J. Breus

Obesity has long been considered one of the most important risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea in adults. In particular, visceral fat — a type of fat that collects in the abdomen — is increasingly regarded as a particularly significant risk factor for sleep apnea. Visceral fat in the abdomen is located within the abdominal cavity, around the body’s organs. Visceral fat itself is considered an important risk factor for a number of serious medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

A new study has found evidence of a strong link between visceral fat and obstructive sleep apnea — a link that is particular to men with the sleep disorder. Researchers in Japan examined the relationship between visceral fat and obstructive sleep apnea in both men and women. The study included 271 men and 100 women who had been treated for obstructive sleep apnea between October 2008 and December 2010. Researchers analyzed the relationships among different measurements of body mass and fat accumulation and indicators of OSA. They found significant differences between these relationships in men and in women:

  • BMI and waist circumference were found to be similar in both men and women.
  • Men in the study had greater accumulations of visceral fat than women.
  • Men also had more severe OSA than women, and also had more severe dyslipidemia — abnormal levels of lipids in the blood. High cholesterol and high triglycerides are the most common types of dyslipidemia.
  • In men, visceral fat accumulation was associated with two indicators of low blood oxygen, which are themselves considered indicators of sleep apnea.
  • In men, visceral fat also was associated with age and with body-mass index (BMI).
  • In women, researchers found no association between obstructive sleep apnea and visceral fat accumulation.
  • In women, visceral fat was only associated with body-mass index.

These findings may help to explain the elevated risks of cardiovascular disease among men with obstructive sleep apnea.

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