[ScienceDaily -- Feb. 12, 2016] Sleep apnea takes a toll on brain function
Researchers find changes in two key brain chemicals in patients with most common type of this disorder
UCLA researchers looked at levels of these neurotransmitters -- glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, known as GABA -- in a brain region called the insula, which integrates signals from higher brain regions to regulate emotion, thinking and physical functions such as blood pressure and perspiration. They found that people with sleep apnea had decreased levels of GABA and unusually high levels of glutamate.
GABA is a chemical messenger that acts as an inhibitor in the brain, which can slow things down and help to keep people calm -- like a brake pedal. GABA affects mood and helps make endorphins.
Glutamate, by contrast, is like an accelerator; when glutamate levels are high, the brain is working in a state of stress, and consequently doesn't function as effectively. High levels of glutamate can also be toxic to nerves and neurons.
"In previous studies, we've seen structural changes in the brain due to sleep apnea, but in this study we actually found substantial differences in these two chemicals that influence how the brain is working," said Paul Macey, the lead researcher on the study and an associate professor at the UCLA School of Nursing.
Macey said the researchers were taken aback by the differences in the GABA and glutamate levels.
"It is rare to have this size of difference in biological measures," Macey said. "We expected an increase in the glutamate, because it is a chemical that causes damage in high doses and we have already seen brain damage from sleep apnea. What we were surprised to see was the drop in GABA. That made us realize that there must be a reorganization of how the brain is working."
People with sleep apnea also often report problems with thinking such as poor concentration, difficulty with memory and decision-making, depression, and stress.
... in addition to prescribing CPAP, physicians now know to pay attention to helping their patients who have these other symptoms.
I immediately wondered about which foods are high in "glutamate" (to reduce) and which foods are high in "GABA" (to increase).
Glutamate highs: bread, cows milk products (milk,cheese), soy
GABA: kefir, miso, sauerkraut, yogurt
(As usual, I eat lots of Glutamate stuff and none of the GABA stuff.)