New research out of Brigham Young University is pointing to a link between high blood pressure and a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s. It’s not exactly the findings you would expect, and researchers are painting it as an association, not causation.

Published in the journal PLOS Medicine, the research team analyzed data from the Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Consortium and the International Genomics of Alzheimer’s Project. In total, 17,008 participants with Alzheimer’s and 37,154 without were analyzed.

The goal of the study was to find and identify any risk factors that could be modified. Study co-author John Kauwe, associate professor of biology, explained the need for the research:

“This is to date the most authoritative paper looking at causal relationships between Alzheimer’s disease and these potentially modifiable factors. In terms of the number of samples, it can’t get bigger at this point.”

The headline results were that people genetically predisposed to high systolic blood pressure had a lower risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s than those that did not have the genetic marker.

Of course, the findings do not mean people should raise their blood pressure as a preventative measure for Alzheimer’s. High blood pressure is a chief risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Not exactly the horse trade you want in your health record.

Another association they found, though weaker, was with smoking.

“Such analysis would address the causality of smoking as a risk factor, and offer valuable insight into nicotine’s role in the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease,” they explain. “Since smoking is a major cause of global disease burden, increasing knowledge of the role of nicotine in the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease may prove to be the more actionable insight.”

Hypertension Drugs as Alzheimer’s Preventatives?

The headline of high blood pressure as lowering your risk for Alzheimer’s is interesting, the team is theorizing the protective effects could be coming from blood pressure medication.

John Kauwe points out the theory in the study:

“It’s likely that this protective effect is coming from antihypertensive drugs. These drugs are already FDA approved. We need to take a serious look at them for Alzheimer’s prevention.”

Expect plenty of trials to start soon to test the theory. If, and it’s a big if, the drug class works, don’t be shocked to see pharmaceutical companies start rolling out new and improved classes of blood pressure medication. Profits have to be made.

In the United States, there are 5.3 million people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The number of cases is expected to surge by 40 percent in the next ten years as the baby boomer generation continues to age.

The study is fascinating, and just maybe shows the answers to perplexing health questions lie in the most unlikeliest of places.

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