People affected by sleep apnea experience pauses in breathing five to 30 times per hour a night, making restful sleep nearly impossible. A recent study presented at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions 2014 has revealed that cutting calories can not only reduce high blood pressure among obese adults, but also improves obstructive sleep apnea.

"This study suggests that in obese patients with obstructive sleep apnea, moderate energy restriction can reduce not only body fat but also the severity of obstructive sleep apnea," Dr. Marcia R. Klein, co-author of the study and adjunct professor in the Department of Applied Nutrition at Rio de Janero State University said in a statement. "So moderate energy restriction in these patients has the potential to reduce cardiovascular risk.

Klein and her colleagues recruited 21 obese people between the ages of 20 and 55 with a history of sleep apnea to take part in a 16-week randomized clinical trial. After splitting the participants into two groups, one group was asked to carry on with their current diet, while the second group was asked to cut 800 calories out of their daily caloric intake. The group that was asked to cut out 800 calories a day from their diet reported fewer pauses in breathing during sleep, lower blood pressure, higher levels of oxygen in their blood, and weight loss.

"Losing weight was most likely the key to all the benefits observed in the calorie-restricted group,” Klein added. “A greater reduction in systolic blood pressure can be explained, at least partially, by the reduction in body weight that was associated with reduction in obstructive sleep apnea severity and sympathetic nervous system activity.”

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, over 18 million people in the United States are affected by sleep apnea, making it just as common as type 2 diabetes. Obstructive sleep apnea is the result of a blocked airway caused by soft tissue in the back of throat collapsing and closing during sleep. Two major risk factors for sleep apnea include being overweight and over the age of 40. Left untreated, sleep apnea can result in high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, abnormal heart rhythm, and weight gain.

Source: Fernandez J, Lourdes M, Klein M, et al. Restricting calories may improve sleep apnea, blood pressure in obese people. American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions. 2014.