Dr. Stuart Quan, division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: "We found that persons who had severe obstructive sleep apnea ate a diet that was unhealthy with increased intake of cholesterol, fat and saturated fatty acids."
During the study, the researchers observed that all participants with extremely severe SDB, or those with respiratory disturbance index (RDI) above 50 disruptions per hour, consumed 88.16 more milligrams of cholesterol per day as compared to those who had less severe OSA.
Women with severe SDB, on average, consumed 21.96 more grams of protein, 27.75 more grams of total fat, and 9.24 more grams of saturated fatty acids.
The researchers said that the results remained significant after controlling for BMI, age, and daytime sleepiness.
They said that among the 320 participants, increasing RDI severity was associated with greater consumption of cholesterol, protein and trans-fatty acids.
According to the team, there also was a trend towards greater ingestion of total saturated fatty acids and total fat, but not carbohydrates, sucrose or dietary fiber.
The researchers said that with the exception of cholesterol, such associations were primarily observed in women.
They said that the mechanism producing the higher dietary consumption of unhealthy nutrients in persons with extremely severe SDB seemed to exaggerate behaviors already observed among obese women.
In their study report, the researchers say that poor sleep quality, a consequence of OSA, may result in a compensatory increase in caloric intake in an effort to boost energy levels, which promotes weight gain.
Based on their observations, the researchers said that their study provided important new information on the dietary habits of people with OSA, which might be another mechanism through which SDB leads to serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke.
The team said that further research was needed to determine the role of unhealthy dietary patterns' role in cardiovascular and metabolic syndrome development in patients with OSA.