Scientists Discover Loud Snorers Often Have 'Fat Tongues
Whether you're the snorer waking up to your own nasal trumps, or a frustrating sleep-deprived partner, noisy breathing problems are responsible for broken nights around the globe - and yet, doctors have never been certain of the cause.
From weight gain to obstructed nasal passages, snoring has been put down to a bunch of conditions - but according to new research, the issue could be caused by a, er, fat tongue.
But what links this unexpected part of the body with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)?
OSA refers to a big mix of sleep-disrupting symptoms, including snoring, inconsistent breathing, gasping and choking, and waking up in the night.
In sleep apnoea, the airways become blocked, which leads to snoring. The condition affects four and two percent of middle-aged men and women, respectively, in the UK.
Snoring - or sleep apnoea - is no joke. Long term, the condition is linked with high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes and depression.
Professor Richard Schwab, chief of sleep medicine at Pennsylvania University, said: "Most clinicians, and even experts in the sleep apnoea world, have not typically focused on fat in the tongue for treating sleep apnoea."
In a clinical study, 67 patients with mild to severe OSA with a BMI (body mass index) over 30 lost nearly 10 per cent of their body weight through diet or surgery over a period of six months.
Their pharynx - that's the part of the throat behind the mouth and nose, FYI - was scanned before and afterwards.
Losing weight overall had reduced fat in the tongues of participants, and reduced the size of the muscles around the jaw and airways.
Tests results showed that the participant's sleep apnoea scores improved by an incredible 31 percent overall, according to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
When analysing the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans of the throat and nose of obese patients, the researchers discovered that the reduction of tongue fat was key to improved sleep apnoea.
This knowledge could see new and improved treatments introduced, where sufferers of OSA have their tongues measured.
Prof Schwab said: "Now we know tongue fat is a risk factor and sleep apnoea improves when tongue fat is reduced, we have established a unique therapeutic target that we've never had before."
New treatments for the condition may mirror cold therapies, which use freezing temperatures to break down stomach fat - but tests would have to be carried out first.
For now, when you get an elbow in the ribs for snoring, just tell them your fat tongue is to blame.
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