High blood pressure increases dementia risk

The small arteries of the brain are sensitive to elevations in blood pressure, and long-term hypertension carries the risk of injury to these small vessels, impairing blood flow and resulting in damage to or atrophy of brain tissue. As such, high blood pressure is hazardous to the brain, contributing to the development of vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and cognitive impairment:

High diastolic blood pressure at age 50 predicts poorer cognitive function at age 70.

Even in younger subjects – 40 and under – hypertension correlates with poorer cognitive performance.

An MRI study determined that higher systolic blood pressure is associated with white matter lesions – a type of damage to brain tissue that arises due to poor circulation and poses risk for dementia.

According to long-term (20-year) studies, the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is more than doubled if systolic blood pressure is in or above the range of 140-160 mmHg.

Over many years, the Western diet combined with hypertension inflicts a great deal of damage on the brain’s delicate small vessels. Keeping your blood pressure in the favorable range is an important step toward maintaining your brain function as you age.

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Strategies for reducing hypertension:

  • Consume a diet based on whole plant foods.
  • Avoid salt, alcohol, and caffeine.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.

The Exercise benefit

A half hour of moderate to vigorous exercise at the start of the day may help lower blood pressure for the remainder of the day among people who are overweight or obese, according to a study published in the journal Hypertension.

The study also found that taking frequent breaks from sitting throughout the day enhances the beneficial effect of exercise on blood pressure. But that effect was seen only among women.

Can hypertension cause other problems?

When your blood pressure is too high for too long, it damages your blood vessels – and LDL (bad) cholesterol begins to accumulate along tears in your artery walls. This increases the workload of your circulatory system while decreasing its efficiency.

As a result, hypertension puts you at greater risk for developing life-changing and potentially life-threating conditions. It can also be a risk factor for metabolic syndrome.

This condition refers to a cluster of risk factors, including high blood pressure, that raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other health problems. It is diagnosed when any three of these risk factors are present:

  • High blood glucose (sugar)
  • Low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood
  • High levels of triglycerides in the blood
  • Large waist circumference or “apple-shaped” body
  • HBP

If you’re new to HBP, you may feel overwhelmed or worried about the future. We can help you get started so you and your doctor can chart a path for success.

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Joel Fuhrman

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