Here’s how blood pressure and cholesterol levels can influence your brain health.
No one can tell for certain if you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease 10, 20 or 30 years from now — but you can certainly lower your risk. Many factors for developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are not genetic — and certain variables could be modified through lifestyle changes.
Among the most prevalent risk factors are high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High blood pressure can damage the blood vessels around the brain, impairing the flow of nutrients to brain cells and making them more vulnerable. High levels of cholesterol can also increase blood pressure.
While cholesterol from the blood cannot enter the brain because the molecule is too large, abnormalities in cholesterol metabolism in the brain are being studied as potential contributors of Alzheimer’s.
Lower blood pressure and cholesterol, lower dementia risk
According to current guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, blood pressure-lowering medication may be prescribed when blood pressure reaches levels of 130/80 mm Hg. An emerging body of research suggests these medications also help the brain.
A 2021 study looking at more than 12,000 people over the age of 50 found that taking a blood pressure-lowering medication reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment — which can be a precursor to dementia — by nearly one fifth.
An earlier study conducted in a smaller sample showed similar findings, suggesting that blood-pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications can reduce the risk of developing dementia by 21 percent.
In addition to medication, there are other proven methods to improve vascular health.
Modifying diet to reduce Alzheimer’s risk
Mediterranean-style diets — rich in whole grains, fruits, berries, vegetables, seafood, fish, beans, and nuts — have long-been associated to longevity and improved brain health. One study on a similar diet designed to promote vascular health was found to lower Alzheimer’s risk by at least 35 percent.
There are all kinds of reasons why this may be the case: For example, eating fish, reducing sugar intake, and the antioxidants found in berries are also linked to better brain health. But it could be as simple as the fact that these diets also reduce blood pressure and promote healthy levels of cholesterol.
Along with your physician, you can develop a healthy plan incorporating ways to lower your blood pressure to a healthy level and eating habits that contribute to better brain health. While it isn’t certain exactly what causes some people to develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, it is possible to delay onset or reduce one’s chances of developing the disease at all.