Dementia Risk May Be Reduced With Blood Pressure Medications
January 8, 2013

Dementia Risk May Be Reduced With Blood Pressure Medications

Rayshell Clapper for - Your Universe Online

Information released Monday, January 7, shows that there may be a connection between taking the blood pressure drugs beta blockers and a reduced risk for Alzheimer´s disease and other types of dementia.

774 elderly Japanese-American men participated in the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study. After the men died, autopsies were performed to check their heart and brain health and the connection therein. 610 of the 774 participants had high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) or were being treated with medication for high blood pressure.

About 350 of these men were being treated while 260 others had high blood pressure but showed no signs of treatment. Of those, 15 percent received only beta blockers, 18 percent received a beta blocker in addition to one or more other medications, and the rest of the participants received other blood pressure drugs, but not a beta blocker.

The study found that the brains of those participants who received a beta blocker as their only medication for high blood pressure had fewer brain abnormalities compared to those who received other blood pressure drugs and no beta blocker. Those who had a combination of a beta blocker and other medication showed a reduction in brain abnormalities, but not to the extent of those who took only the beta blocker. This led researchers to infer that beta blockers may help reduce the risk of dementia diseases.

The brain abnormalities studied included two distinct types of brain lesions: Alzheimer´s disease lesions and microinfarct lesions. A microinfarct is usually attributed to tiny, multiple, unrecognized strokes. Both these lesions cause shrinkage of the brain thus leading to some form of dementia. However, the men who took beta blockers alone or in combination with other medications had significantly less shrinkage in their brains in these two distinct ways.

The LA Times further explains that high blood pressure has a corrosive effect on the brain; thus treating the disease promptly can lower the risk of heart attack or stroke. Both of lesions can lead to the brain abnormalities that cause Alzheimer´s and other forms of dementia. Taking medication to lower the blood pressure is good for both the heart and the brain.

However, not all drugs to lower high blood pressure result in lowered chances of dementia. Dr. Lon White, University of Hawaii neurologist who lead the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study said, “Beta blockers are different.” In his study, he found that the beta blockers were the only high blood pressure drug that showed a difference in brain abnormality prevention as well as lowered blood pressure.

The BBC noted that lowering the heart rate through the use of beta blockers may reduce the wear and tear on small blood vessels throughout the body. This means that healthier blood vessels would carry blood and oxygen to the brain, so the brain would be less likely to suffer microinfarcts and other brain abnormalities.

Moreover, the head of research at Alzheimer´s Research UK, Dr. Simon Ridley, said of high blood pressure: “Hypertension is a known risk factor for Alzheimer´s and other causes of dementia, and keeping high blood pressure in check could be important for preventing these diseases.”

Clearly, an international interest in understanding the connection between high blood pressure and brain abnormalities that cause different forms of dementia are in effect.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that at present an estimated 68 million American adults–nearly 1 in 3–suffers from high blood pressure.

The National Institutes of Health´s (NIH) National Institute on Aging suggests that 5.1 million Americans currently may suffer from Alzheimer´s. If the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study is correct, and those 68 million people with high blood pressure do not seek help, then that 5.1 million Alzheimer´s estimate will only increase.

The United States (as well as other countries worldwide) has already seen an increase in those suffering from different forms of dementia, so further research and understanding is necessary to the connection of heart health and brain health. If continued study shows that beta blockers help both with lowering high blood pressure and minimizing brain abnormalities contributing to dementia, then doctors will have a better plan for prevention and treatment of dementia.

The Honolulu-Asia Aging Study may provide doctors, researchers, and Americans in general with a hint at better brain and heart health. From here, a clinical study will need to be performed in order to continue to research and understand the use of beta blockers and their potential benefits to brain health. With an aging population, the more we understand these diseases, the better we can prevent and treat them.