REM sleep disorder may lead to untimely death of brain cells, causing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and other diseases

Saturday, February 02, 2013 by: Healthy Times Newspaper
Tags: sleep disorders, brain cells, Alzheimer''s

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(NaturalNews) Although their genetic underpinnings differ, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease are all characterized by the untimely death of brain cells.

What triggers cell death in the brain? American neurologists and sleep experts suggest in a recent study that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder could be an early sign of Parkinson's disease or dementia that develops 25 to 50 years later.

Neurologist and sleep specialist Dr. Bradley F. Boeve and colleagues from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota arrived at their findings in a paper published in the journal Neurology on July 28, 2010. REM typically happens several times during a night's sleep, and normally during REM nearly every muscle is paralyzed and our bodies lie still.

Boeve, who is also a member of the American Academy of Neurology, told the press that: "Our findings suggest that in some patients, conditions such as Parkinson's disease or dementia with Lewy bodies have a very long span of activity within the brain and they also may have a long period of time where other symptoms aren't apparent."

The REM disorder is much more common in men than women and usually starts in the middle age or later, although younger people can have it too. For their study, Boeve and colleagues searched patients' records held at the Mayo Clinic and identified 27 patients registered from 2002 to 2006 who experienced REM and sleep behavior disorders for at least 15 years before developing one of three neurological conditions: Parkinson's disease, dementia with Lewy bodies or multiple system atrophy (a disorder with symptoms similar to Parkinson's).

All the patients were examined by specialist in sleep medicine to confirm REM sleep behavior disorder and neurologists to confirm the later disease symptoms. 13 of the patients developed dementia, 13 developed Parkinson's and one developed multiple system atrophy.

The researchers found that the median interval between onset of REM sleep behavior disorder and the neurological disease symptoms was 25 years and ranged up to 50 years. 100 percent of the affected patients had sleep and REM disorders. "At most recent follow-up, 63 percent of patients progressed to develop dementia [Parkinson's disease or dementia with Lewy bodies]. Associated autonomic dysfunction was confirmed in 74 percent of all patients."

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders. Sleep Disorder Breathing (SDB) is caused by a structural problem in the nasal passage or oral airway that hinders respiration during sleep and a lack of oxygen. This structural problem is referred to as Temporal Mandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJD).

A nasal obstruction can be the results of swollen tonsils or adenoids, allergies, inflamed sinus membranes, and anatomically small airway, or a combination thereof. An oral airway obstruction occurs because of malocclusion, bite problems, obesity, a hormonal imbalance/deficiency, your tongue being too far back because of poor jaw alignment (TMJD) or a combination thereof.

If the structural problem has its roots in the nasal passages, such as allergies or swollen sinuses, it is imperative to consult with an otolaryngologist (E.N.T specialist). Otherwise, the oral airway must be examined. A normal airway remains patent during sleep. Normally, the airway retains its muscle tone even if the airway is completely relaxed. When a person suffering from SDB falls asleep, the muscles in the airway relax, but then partially or fully collapse in on one another as the individual breathes in and out.

The sounds of snoring that a bed partner may hear are the result of pharyngeal tissues vibrating against one another or because of the tongue being too far back. To sufficiently oxygenate the body, the air must force its way through the airway, which may be partially or fully obstructed due to the loss of an open airway and a lack of oxygen to the brain.

Sleep disorders may be defined as those that disturb, disrupt or fragment quality, restful REM and refreshing sleep. Despite the attention being accorded to sleep today, it has been reported that only approximately 10 percent of patients with clinically deficient sleep syndromes have been recognized.

Among them are:

• 80 percent of all patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure
• 60 percent of all stroke patients
• 50 percent of all congestive heart failure patients
• 30 percent of all patients with coronary artery disease

Approximately one-third of the U.S. population suffers from sleep disorders such as: snoring, Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS), Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), sleep bruxism or clenching and REM disorders.

"More research is needed on this possible link so that scientist may be able to develop therapies that would slow down or stop the progression of these disorders years before the symptoms of Parkinson's disease or dementia appear." Scientist can't say how many people who experience REM sleep behavior disorder will go on to develop neurological diseases like Parkinson's or dementia. Not all patients with REM and sleep disorders have the aforementioned diseases. However, between 74 percent and 100 percent of the patients studied have REM and sleep disorders.


The clinical consequences of untreated sleep disorders are devastating. Serious medical conditions including (but not limited to) high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, ADHD, sexual dysfunction, decreased mental functions, car accidents, growth retardation in children, crowded or mal-aligned teeth (too small of a mouth or no room for the teeth) all can lead to a decreased quality of life.

This article was written for Healthy Times Newspaper by Leonard J. Feld, DDS.


1. Original paper: Nakamura T, Wang L, Transnitrosylation of XIAP regulates caspase- dependent neuronal cell death. Molecular Cell. Published online Jule 30, 2010.

2. "REM sleep behavior disorder preceding other aspects of synucleinopathies by up to half a century."
D.O. Claassen, K.A. Josephs, J.E., Ahlskog, M.H. Silber, M. Tippmann-Peikert, and B.F. Boeve. Neurology July 29, 2010.

3. Young T, Evans L, Finn L, Estimation of the clinically diagnosed proportion of sleep apnea syndrome in middle aged men and women. Sleep 1997; 20:705-706.

4. Logan AG, High prevalence of unrecognized sleep apnea in drug-resistant hypertension. J Hypertension 2001;19(12):2271-2277.

5. Basetti C, Alrich MS: Sleep apnea in acute cerebrovascular diseases: final report on 128 patients. Sleep 1999; 22(2):217-223.

6. Javaheri S, Sleep apnea in 81 ambulatory male patients with stable heart failure. Circulation 1998; 97:2154-2159.

7. Schafer H, Koehler U, Ewing S, Obstructive sleep apnea as a risk marker in coronary artery disease. Cardiology 1999; 92(2):78-84.

8. Fairbanks NF, Mickelson SA and Woodson BT. Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2003l; 10.

9. Young T, Palta M, Dempsey J, et. al.: The Occurrence of sleep-disordered breathing.

About the author:
Watch the free video The AHA! Process: An End to Self-Sabotage and discover the lost keys to personal transformation and emotional well-being that have been suppressed by mainstream mental health for decades. Follow Mike Bundrant on Facebook for daily health and personal development tips.

Healthy Times Newspaper, founded by Mike and Hope Bundrant in 2004, serves local communities in Southern California.

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