Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSA) is known to be associated with an increased risk of hypertension and other cardiovascular disorders. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia have found that OSAS accelerates overall aging, but their study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, also showed that one year of treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) can slow or even reverse this acceleration of aging. The authors provide additional motivation to follow a treatment that many patients are still reluctant to use.
It is estimated that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects nearly 1 billion people worldwide and it is now known that the condition if left untreated, is associated with an increased risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and many other chronic diseases. The team from the University of Missouri School of Medicine shows here that untreated apnea also accelerates the biological aging process. However, there is a message of hope: tailored treatment can slow or eventually reverse the progression.
Accelerated aging in people with apnea
This was a small pilot study with 16 non-smoking participants diagnosed with OSA, compared to 8 healthy controls without OSA. To assess the impact of apnea on accelerating epigenetic age over a one-year period, the researchers used a test involving a blood sample and DNA analysis, as well as an algorithm to measure biological age. The phenomenon of a person’s biological age exceeding their chronological age is called “epigenetic age acceleration” and is ultimately linked to chronic disease and death. The participants were then treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for one year before being retested. This evaluation showed an acceleration of aging in participants with apnea; however, this acceleration is not unique to OSA and may be due to a number of environmental factors, such as smoking, poor diet, or pollution.
“With our Western lifestyle, it is not uncommon for people to experience this epigenetic age acceleration,” says lead author Rene Cortese, professor of pediatrics and women’s health.
OSA leads to sleep disturbances and decreased oxygen levels during sleep, which promotes this faster biological acceleration of aging. However, with good CPAP compliance, epigenetic aging is slowed, so the biological acceleration of aging is at least partially reversible with effective treatment of OSA.
The key to the success of CPAP therapy in slowing biological aging is high adherence, at least 4 hours per night.
The team will now work to better understand the biology and mechanisms underlying both this acceleration of biological aging in OSA and its slowing with CPAP. But the message is loud and clear OSA must be treated.
European Respiratory Journal 2022 Epigenetic age acceleration in obstructive sleep apnea is reversible with adherent treatment