New research has confirmed previous work indicating that there's a connection between elevated blood pressure and cognitive dysfunction. Reporting in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, researchers have found that when a person's blood pressure is above the recommended range, they are at risk for accelerated brain aging, and that when blood pressure is kept within a range that's considered healthy, the brain may stay up to six months younger than a person's actual age. A blood pressure below 120/80 is considered to be in the normal range, but a healthier blood pressure is thought to be around 110/70.
This study assessed brain scans and blood pressure data measured four times a year over twelve years from 686 people between the ages of 44 and 76. Ages were also estimated based on the brain scans. It determined that the brains of people with higher blood pressure are not as healthy as people with normal blood pressure, giving them an increased risk of dementia, heart disease, and stroke. Even when people had a normal but elevated blood pressure, they were at increased risk of health problems.
"This thinking that one's brain becomes unhealthy because of high blood pressure later in life is not completely true," said lead study author Professor Nicolas Cherbuin, Head of the Australian National University Centre for Research on Aging, Health and Wellbeing. "It starts earlier and it starts in people who have normal blood pressure."
The study authors noted that blood pressure is rising around the world. But it's better for our brains to keep blood pressure lower, and not to wait until it rises above a specific number to do something about it.
"Compared to a person with a high blood pressure of 135/85, someone with an optimal reading of 110/70 was found to have a brain age that appears more than six months younger by the time they reach middle age," said study co-author and cardiologist Professor Walter Abhayaratna.
This study may be of particular importance to people in their 20s and 30s, because the impact of elevated blood pressure on the brain may be starting around that time in a person's life.
"By detecting the impact of increased blood pressure on the brain health of people in their 40s and older, we have to assume the effects of elevated blood pressure must build up over many years and could start in their 20s. This means that a young person's brain is already vulnerable," suggested lead study author Cherbuin.
Professor Abhayaratna added that everyone should be aware of what their blood pressure is, and take steps to reduce it through lifestyle changes like exercise or diet modifications if it's too high.
Sources: Australian National University, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience