Your brain on high blood pressure: Changes that lead to dementia

There’s evidence that high blood pressure can damage your brain as well as your heart.

Research has linked high blood pressure to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease and decreased cognitive functioning. One study even notes that women who develop hypertension in their 40s are 73 percent more likely to develop dementia.

Investigators are still trying to work out exactly how high blood pressure impacts the brain. So far, they’ve discovered that the brains of people with higher blood pressure tend to have more lesions, or infarcts, as well as more tau tangles.

But in what scientists call a “world first,” a new study indicates there could be more to the process than that — and actually shows what high blood pressure does to specific areas of our brains…

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Pinpointing where high blood pressure hurts the brain

Nearly 1 in 3 people worldwide suffer from high blood pressure, with an additional 30 percent showing the initial stages of the condition. While studies have shown it affects how well the brain works, it’s not been clear exactly how it damages the brain and which specific regions are affected… until now.

A team of European researchers conducted two studies: The first involved a combination of brain MRIs from more than 30,000 participants in the UK Biobank study and genetic analyses from UK Biobank and two other international groups.

They then used Mendelian randomization to determine whether high blood pressure was actually the cause of changes to specific parts of the brain or simply associated with these changes.

“Mendelian randomization is a way of using genetic information to understand how one thing affects another,” says Tomasz Guzik, a professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Jagiellonian University Medical College in Krakow, Poland. “In particular, it tests if something is potentially causing a certain effect, or if the effect is just a coincidence.”

Nine areas of the brain impacted by high blood pressure

According to Guzik, researchers were able to use these combined approaches to identify specific parts of the brain that are affected by increases in blood pressure.

“We thought these areas might be where high blood pressure affects cognitive function, such as memory loss, thinking skills and dementia,” he says. “When we checked our findings by studying a group of patients in Italy who had high blood pressure, we found that the parts of the brain we had identified were indeed affected.”

The affected regions include an area called the putamen. The putamen is a round structure in the base of the front of the brain that’s responsible for regulating movement and influencing learning.

Also affected were eight specific white matter regions. These include the anterior thalamic radiation, anterior corona radiata and anterior limb of the internal capsule — all regions that connect and enable signaling between different parts of the brain.

The anterior thalamic radiation is involved in executive functions, such as the planning of simple and complex daily tasks. The anterior corona radiata and anterior limb of the internal capsule are involved in making decisions and managing emotions.

The researchers also observed decreases in brain volume and the amount of brain cortex surface area, changes to connections between different parts of the brain and changes in brain activity measurements.

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May help predict future cognitive decline

Guzik says the researchers hope the findings may help in developing new ways to treat cognitive impairment in people with high blood pressure.

 “Studying the genes and proteins in these brain structures could help us understand how high blood pressure affects the brain and causes cognitive problems,” he says.

“Moreover, by looking at these specific regions of the brain, we may be able to predict who will develop memory loss and dementia faster in the context of high blood pressure,” Guzik adds. “This could help with precision medicine so that we can target more intensive therapies to prevent the development of cognitive impairment in patients most at risk.”

All of this underlines how vitally important it is to get your blood pressure under control sooner than later.

Three steps you can take that can help both lower blood pressure and your odds of dementia are diet, exercise and supplementing omega-3s…

If you want some more tips for keeping your blood pressure down, here are 7 ways to support healthy blood pressure.

Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!


World first: Researchers identify specific regions of the brain that are damaged by high blood pressure and are involved in a decline in mental processes and dementia — European Society of Cardiology

Genetic analyses identify brain structures related to cognitive impairment associated with elevated blood pressure — European Heart Journal

Hypertension, brain imaging phenotypes, and cognitive impairment: lessons from Mendelian randomization — European Heart Journal

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.