High blood pressure in your 30s leads to poor brain health in your 70s: Study | Health

According to a recent UC Davis study, having high blood pressure in your 30s is linked to poorer brain health at age 75, especially in men.

High blood pressure in your 30s impairs brain health in your 70s: Study (Pixabay)
High blood pressure in your 30s impairs brain health in your 70s: Study (Pixabay)

Research published in JAMA Network Open compared magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans of older adults with high blood pressure aged 30 to 40 years with those of older adults with normal blood pressure.

The researchers found that regional brain volume and poor white matter integrity were significantly lower in the high blood pressure group. Both factors are associated with dementia.

The research also showed that negative brain changes in certain areas – such as decreased gray matter volume and frontal cortex volume – were stronger in men. They note that there may be differences related to the protective benefits of estrogen before menopause.

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“Cures for dementia are extremely limited, so identifying modifiable risk and protective factors over the life course is critical to reducing the burden of the disease,” said first author Kristen M. George, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, said.

“High blood pressure is an incredibly common and treatable risk factor associated with dementia. This study indicates that high blood pressure status in early adulthood is important for brain health decades later,” said George.

Prevalence of high blood pressure in the US

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. A normal blood pressure level is less than 130/80 mmHg. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 47% of adults in the United States have high blood pressure.

Rates of high blood pressure vary by gender and race. 50% of men have high blood pressure compared to 44% of women. The rate of hypertension is approximately 56% among black adults, 48% among white adults, 46% among Asian adults and 39% among Hispanic adults. African Americans ages 35 to 64 are 50% more likely to have high blood pressure than whites.

Data from the Healthy Aging Study

Researchers looked at data from 427 participants in the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences (KHANDLE) study and the Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR) study. This provided them with health data from 1964 to 1985 for a diverse group of older Asian, black, Latino, and white adults.

They obtained two blood pressure readings from when the participants were in their 30s to 40s. This allowed them to detect whether they had high blood pressure, transitioned to high blood pressure, or had normal blood pressure at a young age.

MRI scans of participants conducted between 2017 and 2022 allowed them to look for late-life neuroimaging biomarkers of neurodegeneration and white matter integrity.

Significant reductions in cerebral gray matter volume are seen in both men and women with hypertension but are stronger in men.

Brain scans reveal differences

Compared to participants with normal blood pressure, brain scans of those with high blood pressure or hypertension showed reduced cerebral gray matter volume, frontal cortex volume and fractional anisotropy (a measure of brain connectivity). Men with hypertension had lower scores than women.

The study joins a growing body of evidence that heart attack risk factors in youth are detrimental to brain health later in life.

The researchers noted that due to the sample size, they were unable to examine racial and ethnic differences and recommend interpreting the results in terms of gender differences with caution. They also note that MRI data were only available from one time-point late in life. It can only determine physical properties such as volumetric differences, not specific evidence of neurodegeneration over time.

“This study really shows the importance of early life risk factors, and that in order to age well, you need to take care of yourself throughout life — heart health is brain health,” said Rachel Whitmer, senior author of the study. Whitmer is a professor in the Departments of Public Health Sciences and Neurology and head of the Department of Epidemiology. She is also associate director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

“We’re excited to be able to continue to follow these participants and find out more about what can be done early in life to set ourselves up for healthy brain aging in late life,” Whitmer said.

This story is published from the Wire Agency feed without modification to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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