Acupuncture May Help With Sleep Apnea!
Brazilian researchers have found more evidence that acupuncture could be used to reduce the occurrences of sleep apnea. Acupuncture helps by strengthening the genioglossus, or tongue muscle, the leading cause of obstructed airways.
For years, sleep apnea sufferers have been using CPAP machines to manage the condition, and so far, the method has worked well (for some). The only complaint about this machine has been about how cumbersome it is. However, sleep apnea patients have had few or no alternatives to using it, seeing that surgery is not available to everyone.
Sleep apnea is a condition where breathing halts for several seconds at a time, more than once per night. The airways are obstructed either by a failure of the dilator muscle in the upper airway or by an anatomical abnormality. The telltale for sleep apnea is deep snoring.
Needless to say, troubled sleep leads to irritability and unproductiveness, and in some cases, broken relationships where one partner cannot handle the snoring. The pauses in breath distract the flow of blood to the brain, a situation that may reduce the quality of life if unchecked. In even more severe cases, it causes hypertension and erectile dysfunction.
While we cannot pinpoint one singular cause of the condition, obesity and excessive weight gain are associated with the softness of the throat and tongue muscles, which collapse during sleep to obstruct the airways.
Over the last decade or so, some researchers have taken the lead in finding alternative methods of reducing the effects of sleep apnea. Zheng-tao Lv et al analyzed the results of studies conducted between 2007 and 2015 and came up with conclusions that acupuncture is an excellent alternative form of medication for sleep apnea. This study shows that acupuncture could remove the need for CPAP.
In the studies (conducted in Brazil and China), the patients are at various stages of apnea, with the majority suffering from moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). They also belong to diverse age groups, ranging between 35 and 76. The study takes serious measures to eliminate the possibility of bias to ensure that the results are as accurate as possible.
How Acupuncture Helps
The Chinese have used acupuncture for decades as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). In the case of apnea, pressure is exerted in various responsive acupoints to help stimulate muscles of the upper respiratory airways and to prevent collapse during sleep.
Basically, the therapy includes treatments that strengthen the tongue muscle. After treatment, these muscles will be three to four times stronger, and the cases of collapse will be reduced. The intention is to reduce reliance on the CPAP machine and even eliminate its use completely.
This study is only the first of its kind, and more tests will need to be done to confirm the effectiveness of acupuncture for sleep apnea. Still, it is a relief to OSA patients to know that they could improve the quality of life through alternative medicine in the future.
This is worth noting, though. Currently, CPAP machines are still the best option for managing sleep apnea. In an email, Victoria Thon, Ph.D., a member of the ASAA board of directors noted that it would be unwise for patients to neglect PAP therapy, which has been studied extensively for over 25 years. Hopefully, further studies in acupuncture will nullify the use of CPAP machines, especially in moderate cases of sleep apnea.