Contrary to popular belief, we actually use our entire brain – not the commonly believed 10%. How’s that for mind blowing? When it comes to the functionality of our brain, there are two general areas – “white matter” and “grey matter” – that keep things ticking. White matter serves as a messaging system of sorts for the grey matter, which is responsible for things like memory, movement and learning. Now, a new neuroimaging study shows that damage to the white matter caused by obstructive sleep apnea can be almost completely reversed by continuous positive airway treatment (CPAP) treatment.
You can think of the brain like an office building with billions of tiny workers in the form of neurons and synapses. Your brain leaves the lights on around the clock – seven days a week and 365 days a year – to complete a myriad of unique functions; all to keep you alive while you do things like binge-watch Duck Dynasty. The white matter of the brain is sort of like the secretarial department where messages travel through pneumatic tube-like myelinated axons to the grey matter, so that you can function as a normal human.
The study, which was carried out by researchers at The Sleep Disorders Center at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, Italy, found that sleep apnea damages white matter fiber integrity in many different areas of the brain. This damage is literally destroying your brain’s ability to send messages to the grey matter, which can create a whole host of issues, like impairment to cognition, mood and daytime alertness. Cue Donald Trump telling the white matter, “You’re fired!”
The study included 17 men with a mean age of 43 who all had severe untreated obstructive sleep apnea – meaning that they had never tried CPAP before. They were given various tests to assess the damage caused by the sleep disorder and were prescribed CPAP therapy. The patients were evaluated at three months and then again at twelve months. At three months, there were improvements, but nothing to write home about. At twelve months, however, the results were astounding.
After twelve months of CPAP therapy, patients showed an almost “complete reversal of white matter abnormalities.” Basically, CPAP had restored the brain from the damage caused by obstructive sleep apnea. The researchers used unique image resonance technology that lights up certain parts of the brain, so they had an almost crystal clear picture of what the white matter looked like before and after treatment. And accordingly to cognitive studies, improvements were also seen in mood, alertness and quality of life.
This groundbreaking study is yet another notch in CPAP’s long list of defeats against the symptoms obstructive sleep apnea. This study is also a sequel to a previous study by the same researchers, which found that CPAP can restore the damage caused by sleep apnea to the grey matter of the brain – the executive department of the brain responsible for all things cognitive. If you have untreated sleep apnea, it is important to start undergoing CPAP immediately to reverse the damage caused to your brain. No, it’s not Duck Dynasty that’s making you feel stupid – it’s the sleep apnea.
Source: “Brain damage caused by severe sleep apnea is reversible.” Medical X-Press. September 8, 2014.