High blood pressure is the main risk factor behind strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and kidney disease. Recent research also indicates that getting blood pressure under control may also reduce risk of dementia.

The study looked at the data of autopsies of men – some of whom had been treated with anti-hypertensive drugs and some hadn’t. The men who had been on meds for high BP were found to have fewer micro infarcts (which increases risk of strokes) and fewer tangles and amyloid plaques which are indicators of Alzheimer’s. The men who had been taking Hypertensive medications were also found to have more healthy brains overall. Those who had been on beta blockers had the healthiest brains compared with those who had been on other BP meds, even though all on meds appeared to have fared better than their counterparts who had received no treatment.

This seems to suggest that treating hypertension will not only reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes, but cold help reduce all kinds of dementia. The findings were presented in March at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting and is posted at the AAN website.

Earlier research has also shown that high blood pressure in midlife is a strong risk factor for dementia, and this study has reinforced the suggestion that taking certain blood pressure meds might lower the risk. Researchers at the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute in Honolulu studied data from 774 elderly Japanese-American men. They looked at their blood pressure and history of taking blood pressure medication and found that Beta blockers seemed to have a beneficial effect on dementia. Of the group 610 had high BP and 350 were being treated with meds. Of the 350 15% were on beta blockers. The study found that while all blood pressure medications had a positive effect on dementia, men who had received beta-blockers as their only form of medication had healthier brains overall than those who had not been treated or were on more than one medication.

Treating hypertension could help reduce dementia

The brain relies on healthy arteries to deliver a steady supply of blood around the body. Hypertension harms the arteries causing the vessels to thicken and become stiff, something known as arteriosclerosis. Vascular dementia and mild cognitive impairment can result from arteries becoming blocked, along with strokes as a result of blood clots.

Beta blockers as a treatment for dementia?

While beta blockers aren’t used as a first line of treatment for blood pressure – in fact, they’re often a last one, due to their side effects and interference with other drugs, more research now needs to be done to look at them as a way to help control dementia. Beta blockers work by slowing heart rate and reducing the force of the muscle contractions in the heart, decreasing blood vessel contraction in the brain, heart and the body. While beta blockers could be expected to reduce arteriosclerosis by lowering the heart rate, researchers were surprised to find the link between beta blockers and a lower number of amyloid plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This could be because the heart could take a little less pounding as we age.

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