When it comes to apnea, skip the surgery

There's a simple, safe, inexpensive and highly effective way to cure sleep apnea -- and I'll get to that in a moment.

But first, the cure you don't need.

It's a pacemaker, surgically implanted in the chest.

It's being called "minimally invasive," but I think that's a stretch -- because along with the device itself, there are electrodes that extend down into the muscles of your ribs and up into the nerve that's under the tongue.

Wave a magnet over it before bedtime, and the pacemaker clicks on -- and as the electrode in your ribs tracks your breathing, the other one zaps the nerve under your tongue, keeping your airways open.

For many patients, it works. It cuts apnea events -- when you stop breathing in the night -- by 68 percent, and reduces the risk of low oxygen in the blood by 70 percent, according to one study on the device.

And since patients sleep better at night, they report a 40 percent improvement in daytime sleepiness.

But this seems crazy to me. It's a pacemaker, zapping you in the night -- and yes, you do feel it. Forty percent of patients said it was uncomfortable. (On the other hand, it's probably more comfortable than CPAP -- the oxygen masks many apnea patients are given to sleep with.)

The truth is any kind of surgery comes with risks, as will trying to live with a magnetically activated device implanted in your chest and electrodes running through your body.

Like I said earlier, there's a much easier way to beat apnea -- and all you have to do is lose some weight. Up to 90 percent of all apnea cases are caused by obesity, and losing the extra weight will almost always ease or even cure the condition.

Weight loss is also noninvasive and inexpensive -- and along with curing your apnea, it will also help you to stay healthy and avoid diabetes, heart disease and an early death.

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