High blood pressure in your 30s can lead to worse brain health when you reach 75, especially for men, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.
The researchers compared brain scans of older adults who had high blood pressure between the ages of 30 to 40 with those who had normal blood pressure.
The study found that the group with high blood pressure had significantly lower regional brain volumes and worse white matter integrity, both of which are associated with dementia.
The negative brain changes were stronger in men, possibly due to the protective benefits of estrogen before menopause.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. A normal blood pressure level is less than 130/80 mmHg.
Almost half of adults in the United States have hypertension, with the rate varying by sex and race. African Americans ages 35 to 64 years are 50% more likely to have high blood pressure than whites.
The researchers looked at data from 427 participants from the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences (KHANDLE) study and the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR).
The health data were collected from 1964 to 1985 for a diverse cohort of older Asian, Black, Latino, and white adults.
The researchers obtained two blood pressure readings from when the participants were between the ages of 30 to 40.
This allowed them to determine if they had been hypertensive, transitioning to hypertensive, or had normal blood pressure in young adulthood.
MRI scans of the participants conducted between 2017 and 2022 allowed them to look for late-life neuroimaging biomarkers of neurodegeneration and white matter integrity.
Compared to participants with normal blood pressure, the brain scans of those transitioning to high blood pressure or with high blood pressure showed lower cerebral gray matter volume, frontal cortex volume, and fractional anisotropy, a measure of brain connectivity.
The scores for men with high blood pressure were lower than those for women.
The researchers note that due to the sample size, they could not examine racial and ethnic differences and recommended interpreting results regarding sex differences with caution.
They also note that the MRI data was only available from one time-point late in life, which can only determine physical properties like volumetric differences, not specific evidence of neurodegeneration over time.
The study emphasizes the importance of early life risk factors and highlights that heart health is brain health. Taking care of yourself throughout life is essential for healthy brain aging in late life.
The researchers hope to uncover more about what people can do in early life to set themselves up for healthy brain aging in late life.
If you care about blood pressure, please read studies about unhealthy habits that could increase high blood pressure risk, and eating eggs in a healthy diet may reduce risks of diabetes, high blood pressure.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and higher magnesium intake could help benefit brain health.
The study was conducted by Kristen M. George et al and published in JAMA Network Open.
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