PhotoResearchers searching for new treatments for Alzheimer's disease recently made a startling observation.

They found that people with a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure also had a lower risk for Alzheimer's, a fatal condition that robs its victims of their memory.

That seemed counter-intuitive until they closely. The people with the genetic link to hypertension but who weren't getting Alzheimer's were being treated for their high blood pressure.

"It's likely that this protective effect is coming from antihypertensive drugs," said study co-author John Kauwe, an associate professor of biology at Brigham Young University (BYU). "These drugs are already FDA approved. We need to take a serious look at them for Alzheimer's prevention."

Researchers from around the world worked on the study, which examined genetic data from 17,008 people with Alzheimer's and 37,154 people free of the disease.

Looking for causal relationships

The research team was actually looking for something else – links between Alzheimer's disease and health conditions like diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol. Specifically, they were looking for links to conditions that could be modified, like high blood pressure. But the assumption going into the project was that these modifiable conditions might be a contributor to Alzheimer's risk.

Amazingly, the strongest correlation that emerged was a “significant” association between higher systolic blood pressure and reduced Alzheimer's risk.

"Our results are the opposite of what people might think," said fellow co-author Paul Crane, a University of Washington associate professor of internal medicine. "It may be that high blood pressure is protective, or it may be that something that people with high blood pressure are exposed to more often, such as antihypertensive medication, is protecting them from Alzheimer's disease."

Role of ACE inhibitors

As we reported back in 2007, the scientific community has suspected that a certain class of hypertension drug might also help protect against Alzheimer's disease. Wake Forest University researchers made the case that a class of hypertension drugs known as ACE inhibitors might help reduce the inflammation that could contribute to Alzheimers disease.

The study found a link between taking centrally active ACE inhibitors and lower rates of mental decline as measured by the Modified Mini-Mental State Exam, a test that evaluates memory, language, abstract reasoning and other cognitive functions.

For each year that participants were exposed to ACE inhibitors that cross the blood brain barrier, the decline in test results was 50% lower than the decline in people taking other kinds of high blood pressure pills.

The results are not conclusive and this story is published only as general information. It is not medical advice and no one should make any decisions based on general news publications. Only your doctor can advise you about medications and treatments. 

Could be significant

The findings coud be significant since the global population is rapidly aging. Worldwide, about 44 million people have dementia, a group of brain degeneration disorders characterized by an irreversible decline in memory, communication, and other cognitive functions. Dementia mainly affects older people, and because people are living longer, experts estimate that more than 135 million people will have dementia by 2050.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, which accounts for 60% to 70% of cases. The earliest sign of Alzheimer's is often increasing forgetfulness. As the disease progresses, affected individuals gradually lose the ability to look after themselves, they may become anxious or aggressive, and they may have difficulty recognizing friends and relatives. 


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