Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is linked to a higher risk of hypertension, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, but now researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine have found that untreated OSA also accelerates the aging process and proper treatment can slow it down

Accelerated aging testing involves a blood test that analyzes DNA and uses an algorithm to measure a person's biological age.

The phenomenon of a person's biological age exceeding chronological age is called "epigenetic acceleration of aging" and is associated with overall mortality and chronic diseases, writes Science Daily.

"Accelerated aging is not unique to OSA, it can be caused by a variety of environmental factors such as smoking, poor diet or pollution," said Rene Cortese, assistant professor in the Department of Child Health and Department of Obstetrics.

He added that "in Western culture it is not uncommon for people to experience epigenetic acceleration of aging, but we wanted to know how OSA affects systemic acceleration of aging compared to those who do not suffer from the condition."

Cortese's team studied 16 non-smoking adults diagnosed with OSA and compared them with eight control subjects to assess the impact of OSA on epigenetic aging over a one-year period.

After the baseline blood test, the OSA group received continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment for one year before being tested again.

"Our results revealed that OSA-induced sleep disturbances and lower oxygen levels during sleep promote faster biological aging compared to the control group," said Cortese.

"Our results suggest that the biological acceleration of aging is at least partially reversible when effective OSA treatment is implemented," he added.

Corteze emphasized that the key to CPAP success, when it comes to slowing the aging process, is actually using the device for at least four hours at night.

It is unclear how increasing age will affect clinical outcomes and how this applies to other risk groups or children with OSA.

"Since children with OSA are treated differently than adults, this research raises many questions," said Cortese, adding that more must be learned about the mechanisms of action and biology from these findings.