Structural damage to the brain’s white matter caused by high blood pressure has been associated with cognitive decline in older individuals. But according to the LA Times, researchers at University of California, Davis have recently discovered that elevated blood pressure could damage the structure of the brain’s white matter and the volume of its gray matter in people as young as 40.
Participants in the study ranged from 19 to 63, with many around the age of 40, and study subjects were organized into groups with normal blood pressure, high blood pressure, and those who were prehypertensive. Factors such as whether or not the participant was currently receiving treatment for blood pressure and whether they were smokers were also considered.
Researchers used MRIs and diffusion tension imaging to measure white matter injury and gray matter volume in order to determine the participants’ brain health. Results revealed that patients in the hypertensive group had nine percent less gray matter in their brains’ frontal and temporal lobes when compared to patients with normal blood pressure. Furthermore, the study found that the brain of a typical 33-year-old who was hypertensive had a brain health that was equivalent to a 40-year-old study subject with normal blood pressure.
High blood pressure causes arteries to stiffen, forcing the body to produce a stronger pulse of blood flow in order to reach the brain. Researchers determined that lowering blood pressure among middle-aged people and the young elderly can help reduce the risk of brain injury and atrophy associated with elevated levels.
Aggressive, early management of hypertension as a preventative measure against cognitive decline is essential to keep the brain healthy. The study reveals that elevated blood pressure can have a damaging impact on the brain much earlier than most people anticipate.
Professor of neurology and director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Charles DeCarli, was the senior author of the study. He cautions patients to be proactive with managing their blood pressure, as a lack of symptoms doesn’t mean there’s not a problem: “People can influence their late-life brain health by knowing and treating their blood pressure at a young age, when you wouldn’t cognitively be thinking about it.”