High blood pressure damages the brain

December 12, 2012 by
Filed under: Research, Spinewave Bulletin 

chiropractic high-blood-pressure-brain-damageFirst research to demonstrate structural damage to the brain from high blood pressure among people as young as 40.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure damages the brain’s structure and function as early as 40, and even the brains of middle-aged people who clinically would not be considered to have hypertension have evidence of silent structural brain damage, a study led by researchers at UC Davis Medical Centre has found.

The investigation found accelerated brain aging among hypertensive and prehypertensive individuals in their 40s, including damage to the structural integrity of the brain’s white matter and the volume of its gray matter, suggesting that vascular brain injury “develops insidiously over the lifetime with discernible effects.”

The study is the first to demonstrate that there is structural damage to the brains of adults in young middle age as a result of high blood pressure, the authors said. Structural damage to the brain’s white matter caused by high blood pressure previously has been associated with cognitive decline in older individuals.

“The message here is really clear: People can influence their late-life brain health by knowing and treating their blood pressure at a young age, when you wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about it,” said the author. “The people in our study were cognitively normal, so a lack of symptoms doesn’t mean anything.”

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Earlier studies have identified associations between elevated blood pressure and a heightened risk of brain injury and atrophy leading to reduced cognitive performance and a greater likelihood of dementia, making hypertension an important, modifiable risk factor for late-life cognitive decline. There is evidence, the study says, that lowering blood pressure among people in middle age and in the young elderly can help prevent late-life cognitive decline and dementia.

The results were that hypertensive individuals had 9% less gray matter, on average, in their brains’ frontal and temporal lobes. Hypertensive individuals’ brains were significantly less healthy than those of subjects with normal blood pressure. For example, a typical 33-year-old hypertensive’s brain health was similar to that of the typical 40-year-old normal subject. So, for those 33-year-olds, high blood pressure had prematurely aged the brain by roughly 7 years.

The authors did not postulate a mechanism for the damage. However, they noted that high blood pressure causes arteries to stiffen, thus making the blood flowing to the brain pulse more strongly. This stresses the blood vessels of the brain, likely making it more difficult for them to nourish brain tissue such as axons.

Reference: DeCarli, C. et al. Effects of systolic blood pressure on white-matter integrity in young adults in the Framingham Heart Study: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet Neurology, Volume 11, Issue 12, Pages 1039 – 1047, December 2012.

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