Growing up, society has taught us to be self-conscious of our weight, with ‘fat’ being pitted against ‘skinny’ in ways ultimately resulting in us spending way too much time worrying about individual body parts.
‘Eurgh. I can’t stand the sight of my arms,’ ‘My stomach’s so fat,’ ‘Why on Earth are my legs the size of tree trunks?!’ I can pretty much guarantee you’ve never worried about the fatness of your tongue, though.
That is, until now. Because apparently having a fat tongue means you may be at greater risk of sleep apnoea, a condition where your breathing stops and starts while you sleep and can cause loud snoring, noisy breathing and jerky movements.
I know what you’re thinking: what constitutes a fat tongue and how are we supposed to know if we have one?!
Apparently, you have a fat tongue if you cannot see your entire uvula – the ball-like protrusion that hangs down from the roof of your mouth – when you open your mouth and stick your tongue out all the way.
While scientists already knew sleep apnoea was more likely in people who were overweight or obese, and that it improved when they lost weight, up until now they didn’t know why. Scientists were also aware that larger and fattier tongues were more common among obese patients.
Fatty tongues are now thought to be a risk factor, with a new study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, via the BBC, finding every extra 1% tongue weight loss equated to a 1% reduction in the risk of sleep apnoea. Researchers also found when people lose weight in their body, they lose weight in their tongue.
Now that we know tongue fat is a risk factor and that sleep apnoea improves when tongue fat is reduced, we have established a unique therapeutic target that we’ve never had before.
The researchers now plan to work out which low-fat diets are particularly good at slimming down the tongue.
Over the course of six months, researchers studied 67 people with obstructive sleep apnoea who were obese, and through diet or weight loss surgery the patients lost nearly 10% of their body weight, which improved their symptoms by 30%.
Dr Richard Schwab, chief of Sleep Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said:
Most clinicians, and even experts in the sleep apnoea world, have not typically focused on fat in the tongue for treating sleep apnoea.
Who knew, ey?