High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects approximately 47% of American adults, and rates are highest in Black adults (56%), followed by White adults (48%), Asian adults (46%), and Hispanic adults (39%).
A new study suggests that high blood pressure in young and middle-aged adults may lead to poorer brain health later in life. The study offers a hopeful message: treating high blood pressure in young and middle-aged adults may help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later on, particularly in men.
Research Details: The study focused on older adults with high blood pressure in their 30s and found that those in the high blood pressure group had two markers associated with dementia—lower regional brain volumes and worse white matter integrity. Negative changes in some brain regions, including decreased gray matter and frontal cortex volume, were stronger in men. The researchers attributed this difference to the protective benefits of estrogen before menopause.
More Details: The data for the study came from 427 people who participated in aging studies conducted between 1964 and 1985, including Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White individuals. Two blood pressure readings when participants were between the ages of 30 and 40 offered researchers information about whether their blood pressure was high, trending toward high, or normal at that time. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans conducted between 2017 and 2022 gave the team information about participants' brain health.
Results: The researchers found that participants with high blood pressure or were on the verge of it had less cerebral gray matter volume and less volume in the frontal cortex, and lower fractional anisotropy, a measure of brain connectivity. Scores for men with high blood pressure were lower than those for women. Research emphasizes the importance of early life risk factors and that individuals need to take care of themselves throughout life to age well. Heart health is brain health, and the study suggests that hypertension status in early adulthood is essential for brain health decades later.
What Does the Researcher Say? In a statement, Rachel Whitmer, the senior author of the study, and a Professor of Public Health Sciences and Neurology, as well as the Chief of the Division of Epidemiology at UC Davis, highlighted the significance of early life risk factors, stating that maintaining good health throughout one's life is crucial for successful aging. According to her, heart health is directly linked to brain health, as the study has shown. Whitmer expressed her excitement about continuing to track the study participants, hoping to discover more about what individuals can do in early life to promote healthy brain aging later on.
The insights from this study offer a hopeful message to young and middle-aged adults who have the opportunity to take steps to manage their blood pressure and prevent future cognitive decline. The researchers hope to continue following the participants to uncover what individuals can do in early life to set themselves up for healthy brain aging in late life.