As you age your blood pressure is likely to change. That is a normal part of life, which is predictable and can be easily addressed with our current medication. Blood pressure is not to be taken lightly, because it is a major indicator of cardiovascular health. Now a UCL-led research found that premature changes in blood pressure could predict poorer brain health in later life.
Scientists followed 502 dementia-free individuals from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development study and analysed their blood pressure at different moments in their lives. National Survey of Health and Development is a birth cohort, which means that researchers were able to study participants’ blood pressure at 36, 43, 53, 60-64 and 69 years. 465 of the participants underwent brain scans, looking for levels of a key Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, in the brain. And results were surprising – higher blood pressure at the age of 53 and faster rises in blood pressure between 43 and 53 can be associated with more signs of blood vessel damage in the brain when an individual was in their early 70s.
Previous studies have linked blood pressure in midlife with the risk of dementia, but that link or the mechanism were not clearly understood. Now scientists see that brain volumes of people who had high blood pressure at the age of 43 are smaller. However, it is important to note that researchers did not find a link between the blood pressure at this age and the amount of amyloid protein in the brain or memory and thinking problems. In other words, this means that brain damage that can be associated with high blood pressure is driven by blood vessel damage and not Alzheimer’s disease.
And so, scientists conclude that your blood pressure in your 30s’ ave a knock-on effect on brain health four decades later. You should check your blood pressure once in a while and do what you have to do to maintain it at healthy levels. Dr Josephine Barnes, co-author of the study, said: “As increases in blood pressure and higher blood pressure between the ages of 36 and 53 seem to have a detrimental effect on brain health in later life, these findings reinforce the need for monitoring blood pressure even before mid-life”. That is why you should make sure you check your blood pressure regularly and consult a doctor if you notice something unusual.
Results of this study will take time to reach clinical guidelines. This means that doctors are unlikely to recommend blood pressure monitoring for younger-mid-age people. You will have to take initiative and make sure you understand the risks of high blood pressure.