Researchers at the University of California at Davis, using data from the Framingham Heart Study, concluded that having high blood pressure may be aging your brain.
The scientists also suggested high blood pressure could put you at risk for memory problems and eventually for dementia and Alzheimer’s.
And the risk can begin as early as your 30s or even if you have been diagnosed with pre-hypertension.
The study 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 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 senior study author Charles DeCarli, who is a professor of neurology and director of the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center. "The people in our study were cognitively normal, so a lack of symptoms doesn't mean anything."
If your blood pressure is elevated, health experts recommend making immediate lifestyle changes, including losing weight, exercising more and lowering your salt intake, to get your blood pressure to the 120/80 level.
For their study, DeCarli and colleagues analyzed data on 579 people taking part in the Framingham Heart Study, a longitudinal investigation that started following the cardiovascular health of people living in Framingham, Massachusetts, more than 60 years ago. The study is now in its third generation of participants. The participants were mostly in their late 30s when they were joined this part of the study, in 2009.
They had their blood pressure taken on entry, and were at that time assigned to one of three groups: normal blood pressure, prehypertensive, or high blood pressure. The researchers also noted their smoking status and if they were taking any medication for blood pressure. After that, the participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans that took extensive measurements of any white matter injury and gray matter.