Taking Blood Pressure Medication Can Slash Alzheimer's Risk for Black Patients, New Study Says
Researchers have found a new hope for slowing cognitive decline.
Right now, an estimated 6.5 million U.S. adults age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's disease. This number is expected to grow substantially over the coming decades, meaning many aging Americans are at risk of developing this neurodegenerative disease. Older Black Americans in particular are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer's compared to older Caucasians, with 21 percent of Black Americans age 70 and older currently living with the disease.
Though researchers have yet to identify the cause of this disparity, higher rates of cardiovascular disease could play a role. Fortunately, new research has found that taking one type of blood pressure medication can significantly reduce Alzheimer's risk for Black patients. Read on to discover what this popular medication is, and how it can protect your aging brain.
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Several factors can increase Alzheimer's risk.
Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, and the number of people who have it doubles every five years after age 65. The disease is caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins in and surrounding the brain cells, a process that starts years before symptoms appear. That's why knowing the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's and its potential causes is critical for preserving cognitive function and promoting healthy brain aging. The most common red flags that could signal Alzheimer's include memory loss, difficulty doing everyday tasks, financial problems, unusual behavior, and fluctuating mood.
The National Health Services (NHS) reports that several factors can send your Alzheimer's risk soaring. Many of these are out of your control—such as age and genetics—but the saying "genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger" applies to Alzheimer's and all other forms of dementia. Smoking, drinking alcohol, eating a poor diet, and having a sedentary lifestyle are modifiable risk factors that increase your risk of cognitive decline. Other risk factors include head injuries, hearing loss, depression, and social isolation.
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Blood pressure medication can reduce Alzheimer's risk in Black patients.
In a recent study published in The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, researchers analyzed data from over five million Alzheimer's patients and found that the popular blood pressure medication telmisartan can be an effective Alzheimer's treatment for Black patients. However, the study didn't show the same cognitive benefits for white subjects. And even though Black people are more likely to develop the disease, they're underrepresented in clinical trials. The research isn't clear as to why this disparity exists.
Laura Purdy, MD, MBA, a board-certified family physician in Fort Benning, Georgia, tells Best Life, "The exact reason for this disparity […] could be related to the fact that Black people also have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, which can contribute to the development of dementia. However, some preliminary studies have controlled for socioeconomic status, and the discrepancy seems to become smaller, so it may also be related to access to high-quality healthcare."
Constricted blood vessels can lead to cognitive decline.
Telmisartan is a common blood pressure medication that works by blocking the production of angiotensin II, a hormone that causes blood vessel constriction. Having constricted blood vessels impedes healthy blood flow to your brain, increasing your risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's. The researchers studied other blood pressure medications in addition to telmisartan, but only telmisartan showed potential benefits for Black patients.
"Telmisartan helps decrease blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels and making it easier for the heart to pump blood in the way that it needs to, helping to slow the progression of Alzheimer's," Purdy explains. "This medication helps control the strength and amount of the blood flow, which protects the tiny little blood vessels in the brain, called capillaries."
By protecting the capillaries in your brain, telmisartan decreases harmful plaque formation that causes Alzheimer's and contributes to memory loss.
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Different ethnic groups are at a higher risk of Alzheimer's comorbidities.
Researchers noted that Black Alzheimer's patients are more likely to have comorbidities associated with the disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. Understanding why could be crucial for combating dementia. Also, learning how to manage these conditions effectively with proper medication and healthy lifestyle habits can reduce Black people's risk of developing Alzheimer's when taking telmisartan.
Feixiong Cheng, PhD, co-author of the study and researcher at the Cleveland Clinic Genomic Medicine Institute, said in a statement, "Considering race-specific drug responses holds potential for drastically improving patient care, identifying these candidate drugs can also reveal more information about the disease itself through referencing the medicine's targets."