According to a recent UC Davis study, high blood pressure in your 30s is linked to worse brain health around 75, especially in males.
The study, which was published in JAMA Network Open, compared older adults with high blood pressure who were between the ages of 30 and 40 with older adults who had normal blood pressure using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans.
The researchers found that the high blood pressure group had significantly lower regional brain volumes and worse white matter integrity. Both factors are associated with dementia.
The research also showed that the negative brain changes in some regions – such as decreased grey matter volume and frontal cortex volume – were stronger in men. They note the differences may be related to the protective benefits of estrogen before menopause.
First author Kristen M George, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, stated, “Treatment for dementia is extremely limited, so identifying modifiable risk and protective factors over the life course is key to reducing disease burden”.
Kristen M George said, “High blood pressure is an incredibly common and treatable risk factor associated with dementia. This study indicates hypertension status in early adulthood is important for brain health decades later.”
High blood pressure prevalent in U S.
Hypertension, another name for high blood pressure, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. A blood pressure of less than 130/80 mmHg is considered normal. 47 per cent of American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have hypertension.
By sex and race, the rate of high blood pressure varies. About 50 per cent of men have high blood pressure compared to 44 per cent of women. The rate of hypertension is about 5 per cent in Black adults, 48 per cent in white adults, 46 per cent in Asian adults and 39 per cent in Hispanic adults. African Americans ages 35 to 64 years are 50 per cent more likely to have high blood pressure than whites.
Data from healthy aging studies
The researchers looked at data from 427 participants from the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences (KHANDLE) study and the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR). This provided them with health data from 1964 to 1985 for a diverse cohort of older Asian, Black, Latino and white adults.
They obtained two blood pressure readings from when the participants were between the ages of 30 to 40. This allowed them to determine if they had been hypertensive, transitioning to hypertensive or had normal blood pressure in young adulthood.
MRI scans of the participants conducted between 2017 and 2022 allowed them to look for late-life neuroimaging biomarkers of neurodegeneration and white matter integrity.
A significant reduction in cerebral gray matter volume is seen in both men and women with hypertension but is stronger in men. Brain scans reveal differences.
Compared to participants with normal blood pressure, the brain scans of those transitioning to high blood pressure or with high blood pressure showed lower cerebral gray matter volume, frontal cortex volume and fractional anisotropy (a measure of brain connectivity). Men with high blood pressure received lower scores than women with the same condition.
The study joins a growing body of evidence that cardiovascular risk factors in young adulthood are detrimental to late-life brain health.
The researchers note that due to the sample size, they could not examine racial and ethnic differences and recommended interpreting results regarding sex differences with caution. They also note that the MRI data was only available from one time point late in life. This can only determine physical properties like volumetric differences, not specific evidence of neurodegeneration over time.
“This study truly demonstrates the importance of early life risk factors, and that 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.
Rachel Whitmer is a professor in the Public Health Sciences and Neurology departments and chief of the Division of Epidemiology. She’s also the associate director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
Rachel Whitmer said, “We are excited to be able to continue following these participants and to uncover more about what one can do in early life to set yourself up for healthy brain aging in late life”.
(with inputs from ANI)