More Studies Link Blood Pressure Drugs, Brain Health

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Some medications used to treat blood pressure are increasingly showing signs that they may have an effect on dementia. Admittedly, the findings are a little contradictory, but they do offer some hope. In addition, these studies underscore the relationship between heart health and brain health.

    Research on Sartans & Beta-Blockers

    For instance, the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation reported on a study that found that angiotensin receptor blockers (also known as “sartans”) that are used to treat high blood pressure seemed to result in less brain plaque that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. These medications also are occasionally prescribed to help manage heart failure that can result from diabetes-related kidney disease.

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    This study involved the examination of brains from 890 people who had been treated with different types of blood pressure medications. Most of these people died when they were in their 70s or 80s. Some but not all had Alzheimer’s disease.

    The autopsy of the brains found that the people who were taking sartans had developed less brain plaque when compared with people who were taking other medications for high blood pressure. This finding was consistent among all of the brains, not just those with Alzheimer’s disease. “Buildup of plaque, composed of the toxic protein beta-amyloid, is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, though some people with plaque buildup do not show signs of the disease,” the foundation reported. “And whether the diminution of plaque buildup observed in this study in those taking sartans translates to fewer memory problems remains to be determined.”

    This study follows a previous large study of American veterans who had high blood pressure. That study found that veterans who were taking sartans had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementias than those who were on other high blood pressure medications, such as ACE inhibitors.

    And another study published earlier this year found that taking beta-blockers for hypertension led to fewer micro infarctions, less brain atrophy and fewer Alzheimer’s legions in autopsies of brains from 774 Japanese-American men.  In this study, 15 percent took only a beta-blocker, 18 percent took both a beta-blocker and one or more other medications, while 67 percent took other blood pressure medications. According to ABC News, this study found that beta blockers alone were superior to other forms of blood pressure treatment in relation to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Types of Blood Pressure Medications

    There are multiple types of blood pressure medications that are prescribed to people who have hypertension. According to the American Heart Association, these medications include:

    • Diuretics, which help the body get rid of excess sodium and water in order to control blood pressure. These often are prescribed in combination with additional medications.
    • Beta blockers, which reduce the heart rate, the heart’s workload, as well as the output of blood.
    • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (sartans), which blocks the effect of angiotensin, a chemical that causes arteries to narrow.
    • ACE inhibitors, which starts for Angiotensin-converting enzyme. Angiotensin is a chemical that triggers arteries to narrow. ACE inhibitors cause the body to produce less angiotensin, which results in the blood vessels relaxing and opening up to help blood move more smoothly through the body.
    • Calcium channel blockers, which prevent calcium from entering the smooth muscle cells of the heart and arteries. Calcium in these cells cause a stronger and harder contraction; therefore, limiting the calcium’s effect causes the heart’s contraction to be less forceful. The calcium channel blockers cause narrowed blood vessels to relax, thus reducing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.
    • Alpha blockers, which reduce the resistance of arteries, thus relaxing the muscle tone of the vascular walls.
    • Alpha-2 Receptor Agonist, which decrease the activity of the sympathetic portion of the involuntary nervous system.
    • Combined alpha and beta-blockers, which are used as an IV drip for people who are experiencing a hypertensive crisis. This medication may be prescribed in an outpatient situation if the person is at risk for heart failure.
    • Central agonists, which cause the blood vessel’s ability to tense up or contract to decrease.
    • Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors, which block neurotransmitters in the brain, thus blocking the smooth muscles from receiving the message to constrict. These medications are rarely used.
    • Blood vessel dilators (vasodilators), which cause the muscle in the walls of blood vessels to relax, thus allowing the blood vessel to widen.

    I wasn't able to ascertain what relationship between these other medications and brain health. However, I think your health care provider can pull this type of research to use in making medication decisions. So if you have high blood pressure and also are worried about Alzheimer’s and dementia, definitely talk with your health care provider about the best medication for your situation.

  • Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    American Heart Association. (2012). Types of blood pressure medications.

    Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (2012). Blood pressure drugs may help slow Alzheimer’s.

    Petrochko, C. (2013). Blood pressure drugs linked to lower Alzheimer’s risk. ABC News.

Published On: April 18, 2013