Blood Pressure, Medication, Diet, And Dementia: What The Recent Research Tells Us
"If you look ... for things that we can prevent that lead to cognitive decline in the elderly, hypertension is at the top of the list," Dr. Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told The Associated Press.
Since last week, when I wrote about certain blood pressure medications and their positive effects on memory, there have been a few new studies published relating the effects of medication and diet on blood pressure and dementia. Just so that you're not thinking deja vu all over again at what seems like a repetition of yesterday's news, I thought I'd prepare a short summary of how these studies interrelate and what they mean to us.
Forget the sequence of news. For our purposes, say these studies were all released on the same day; the following three points are summaries.
1. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, causes scarring in the "white matter" of the brain, which leads to dementia.
If you think of white matter as a system of nerve fibers that, like a telephone network, allows cells to communicate with each other, you can imagine how a lesion to one of those wires would interrupt communication between those cells.
In a subset of the Women's health Initiative it was shown that women over the age of 65 who had high blood pressure (more than 140 over 90) showed significantly more scarring of the white matter on MRI tests than their counterparts with normal blood pressure.
2. Certain blood pressure medications, primarily angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), appear, to some degree, to protect the white matter from forming lesions.
These medications have positive effects for those who show no signs of dementia as well as for persons who show some signs of a developing dementia. (see Blood Pressure Medicine And Alzheimer's: Do You Know Your ARBs From Your ACEs?)
3. A low carbohydrate diet has weight loss benefits, but it also lowers blood pressure significantly.
In a study comparing weight loss results of diet pills with weight loss results of a low carb diet, both diets resulted in about the same amount of weight loss. But there was a positive effect on blood pressure for dieters on the low carbohydrate diet. More than half of the low carb dieters who were taking blood pressure medication during the diet were able to reduce their medication or were taken off of the medication altogether. Lower blood pressure results were also experienced by those taking diet pills, but only by 21 percent of that population.
There are two additional recent studies related to diet, or more specifically "foods," that may be helpful in protecting your memory:
4. Two cups of blueberry juice a day improves memory in older adults.
Of course, blueberries are carbs, but they are considered low-glycemic carbs (as long as sugar is not added to them). While the total verdict is out on this one, a small study strongly suggests that 2 cups of blueberry juice a day will show "significant improvement" in memory and can forestall or mitigate dementia. (see Juicy News! Daily Blueberry Juice Repowers Memory In Seniors.)
5. Two cups of apple juice a day may protect your brain from developing beta-amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer's patients.
Yes, I know, more carbs. What can I say? The study, though it involved aging rats, was quite convincing.
Essentially, what all the researchers learned about the events leading to dementia are the same for those leading to heart disease. To avoid both heart disease and dementia, your need to...
- Monitor your blood pressure; see your doctor if it is above 140/90;
- Stay on a low-carb diet (Aerobic exercise also helps keep blood pressure down!);
- Take angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) blood pressure medication if you have high blood pressure to help protect you against Alzheimer's disease as well as cardiovascular disease; and
- Choose your fruit weapon against Alzheimer's. Either eat lots of blueberries and apples or drink a lot of their pure juices; but watch your blood sugar levels and ask your doctor about consuming the recommended 2 cups a day if you are diabetic. (I'll be on the lookout for further studies on fruitful benefits for memory.)