Early blood pressure change linked to poorer brain health later

In a new study, researchers found changes in blood pressure in those as young as 36 are linked to markers of poorer brain health in later life.

The research was led by a team from University College London.

Blood pressure in midlife has previously been linked to a higher risk of dementia but the mechanism by which this happens, and the time when blood pressure is most important, remain to be fully understood.

In the study, the team followed 502 people who were all born in the same week in 1946.

The participants were free from dementia at the start of the study and 465 underwent brain scans to assess their brain health.

Due to the nature of the birth cohort, the researchers were able to measure their blood pressure at 36, 43, 53, 60-64 and 69 years.

The brain scans looked for levels of a key Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, in the brain.

The scans also assessed the size of the brain—an indicator of brain health—and the presence of blood vessel damage in the brain.

The team found that higher blood pressure at the age of 53 and faster rises in blood pressure between 43 and 53 were linked to more signs of blood vessel damage or ‘mini-strokes’ in the brain when a person was in their early 70s.

Higher blood pressure at the age of 43 and greater increases in blood pressure between the ages of 36 and 43 were linked to smaller brain volumes.

Blood pressure was not linked to the amyloid protein in the brain and did not appear to predict memory and thinking problems at this age.

The team says that blood pressure even in our 30s could have a knock-on effect on brain health four decades later.

The damage caused by high blood pressure is unlikely to be driven through the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein amyloid but through changes in blood vessels and the brain’s architecture.

The findings show that blood pressure monitoring and interventions aimed at maximizing brain health later in life need to be targeted at least by early midlife.

Researchers will continue to monitor these participants in the years to come to explore whether those with worse brain health are more prone to cognitive decline and dementia.

One author of the study is Professor Jonathan Schott (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology).

The study is published in The Lancet Neurology.

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