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Can moderate sleep apnea in elderly increase longevity?

Posted Sep 16 2008 7:11am

New research results suggest that sleep apnea – which has often been linked to increased rates of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality – may actually contribute to higher survival rates in the elderly. The findings by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers were presented last Thursday at the bi-annual European Sleep Research Society Congress in Glasgow, Scotland.

Led by Prof. Peretz Lavie of the Faculty of Medicine, the study was conducted over a 4.5-year period, with researchers comparing mortality rates among elderly subjects diagnosed with sleep apnea to those of the elderly in the general population. Results were divided by to age, sex, and ethnic origin.

When mortality rates of 611 elderly patients with “light or no” sleep apnea, “moderate” sleep apnea, and “severe” sleep apnea were compared with the general population, those suffering from moderate sleep apnea had a mortality rate one-third of that of the general population. And mortality rates for the elderly with no sleep apnea, light sleep apnea and severe sleep apnea were on par with those of the general populace.

“These findings, when combined with new findings in scientific literature of the adaptive influences of intermittent hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in various clinical models, strengthens our hypothesis that sleep apnea activates defense mechanisms among the elderly that provide them with survival advantage,” said Lavie.

Although sleep apnea is more prevalent among the elderly than among the young and middle-aged, the geriatric medical implications are still not well known.

Affecting 10 percent of men and five percent of women, sleep apnea has been found to constitute a significant risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The findings from many studies – including some conducted at the Technion – show patients with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for mortality, particularly if they are overweight.

This sleep apnea research was conducted in the Lloyd Rigler Laboratory for Sleep Apnea Research at the Technion Faculty of Medicine (Newswise).

Editorial note - Even if further research proves that the biological stress of moderate intermittent hypoxia can somehow increase life span in the elderly, it will always remain in the advisory category of “don’t try this at home.” Certain kinds of bodily stress, including even certain dosages of whole body radiation, may activate resilience genes and boost longevity for some, but hypoxia and radiation are obviously too risky to be any common kind of treatment modality or strategy of preventivemedicine. Safe, healthy ways to activate your resilience genes include exercise (especially if you can achieve some degree of intensity), various fasting or calorie restriction protocols (such as every other day fasting), and consuming certain dietary polyphenols in significant amounts (for example, by eating blueberries or drinking pomegranate juice). Other strategies might include supplementing with resveratrol or its upcoming prescription derivatives (if they prove to be safe). To your resilience! - Dr. Z.

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