SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Your future self will thank you if you start taking steps to lower your blood pressure today. New research suggests that having high blood pressure in your 30s increases your risk of having poor brain health by age 70. Simply put, keeping your blood pressure within a normal range can help ward off brain conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
The findings come from examining brain scans of older people who had a history of high blood pressure at age 30 to 40 with older people who had normal blood pressure at that age. The high blood pressure group showed lower brain volumes and white matter defects. Both of these brain changes are linked to the onset of dementia.
Men were also more likely to experience harmful brain changes than women. Men with high blood pressure in their 30s showed more decreases in gray matter volume and frontal cortex volume. The authors explain that the high levels of estrogen that women have before menopause may protect the brain from the effects of high blood pressure.
“Treatment for dementia is extremely limited, so identifying modifiable risk and protective factors across the lifespan is critical to reducing disease burden,” says first author Kristen M. George, assistant professor at the Department of Public Health Sciences at UC Davis, in a graduate field trip. “High blood pressure is an incredibly common and treatable risk factor associated with dementia. This study indicates that high blood pressure status in early adulthood matters for brain health decades later.
The researchers looked at data from 427 people participating in two other studies looking at healthy aging. The health information of these patients looked at a period from 1964 to 1985. These people had their blood pressure taken between the ages of 30 and 40 to see if they had high blood pressure, if they were at risk for high blood pressure blood pressure or if they had normal blood pressure. pressure. The same group also received MRI scans between 2017 and 2022 to look for any signs of neurodegeneration or other brain abnormalities.
Both men and women with high blood pressure showed a significant decrease in gray matter, although the changes were more common in men. People at risk for high blood pressure also had decreased brain gray matter, frontal cortex volume, and fractional anisotropy (a measure of brain connectivity).
“This study really demonstrates the importance of risk factors early in life, and that to age well, you need to take care of yourself throughout life – heart health is brain health,” says Rachel Whitmer, lead author of the study and a professor at UC. Davis.
There are some limitations to the study. The small sample size prevented the authors from considering racial and ethnic differences when examining the results. MRI scans were also done once, which provides no evidence of when neurodegeneration began to occur.
About 47% of American adults have high blood pressure, which refers to anything above 130/80 mmHg. Several factors influence the likelihood of developing high blood pressure. About half of men suffer from high blood pressure, compared to 44% of women. By ethnicity, high blood pressure is highest among black adults and lowest among Hispanic adults. Additionally, African Americans between the ages of 35 and 64 are 50% more likely to suffer from high blood pressure than whites in the same age bracket.
The study is published in Open JAMA Network.