Men and women who take drugs to keep high blood pressure in check may be somewhat protected against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, a new study found. And those who took a type of blood pressure drug called a beta blocker may be particularly protected from dementia.
The report, presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th annual meeting, found that treatment for high blood pressure was good for the brain, regardless of the type of blood pressure medication taken. But people who took beta blockers had the fewest brain changes typical of incipient Alzheimer’s disease.
Examples of beta blockers, which slow the heart beat, include acebutolol (Sectral), atenolol (Tenormin), bisoprolol (Zebeta), metoprolol, nadolol (Corgard), nebivolol (Bystolic) and propranolol (Inderal LA). Over time, high blood pressure has corrosive effects on blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain.
For the study, researchers looked at elderly Japanese-American men who were part of the ongoing Honolulu-Asia Aging Study. Autopsies were performed on 774 of the men after they died, most of whom had suffered from high blood pressure or were being treated for the disease. About 15 percent were taking a beta-blocker alone, while another 18 percent were taking a beta blocker along with another blood pressure medication.
Those taking beta blockers had the fewest brain abnormalities typical of Alzheimer’s disease. They also had fewer microinfarcts, a condition that arises when blood does not get to certain areas of the brain, causing multiple tiny strokes.
Study participants who had taken beta blockers, alone or in combination with another blood pressure medication, also had significantly less shrinkage in their brains. Shrinkage of the brain occurs in Alzheimer’s disease and progresses as the disease gets worse.
This does not mean that beta blockers will prevent Alzheimer’s in people who do not have high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Treatment of their high blood pressure with beta blockers lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer’s to the level of risk seen in people without high blood pressure.
"With the number of people with Alzheimer's disease expected to grow significantly as our population ages, it is increasingly important to identify factors that could delay or prevent the disease," said study author Dr. Lon White of the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute in Honolulu. "These results are exciting, especially since beta blockers are a common treatment for high blood pressure."
More research needs to be done to confirm the links between high blood pressure, dementia and various types of blood pressure medications. It is not a good idea for someone to start taking beta blocker drugs as an Alzheimer’s preventive or for someone on blood pressure medications to switch drugs without consulting their doctor. But experts agree that a healthy heart helps contribute to a healthy brain, and it’s always a good idea to keep blood pressure in check.
Source: American Academy of Neurology.