High Blood Pressure in Young Adulthood May Be Bad for Your Brain

The cumulative effect of high blood pressure from young adulthood to middle age is associated with poorer mental function at age 50, a new study concludes.

For their analysis, published in Circulation, researchers looked at 191 generally healthy men and women ages 18 to 30 who were participating in a larger health study. Over the next 30 years, they measured their blood pressure with nine periodic readings to create a cumulative blood pressure score.

They measured mental acuity with tests of memory, attention, judgment, planning and decision-making. They also tested gait speed and length, since slow gait and short steps may be markers of poor blood vessel function. The study controlled for race, sex, smoking, diabetes, total cholesterol and other factors.

The average blood pressure at the start was 108/66, well within the healthy range. But blood pressure increases with age, and they found that higher cumulative blood pressure, even at averages below the normal threshold of 140/90, was associated with slower gait, shorter steps and poorer cognitive performance.

The lead author, Dr. Simin Mahinrad, a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern, said it is important to know not only how high blood pressure is, but also for how long it has been high. “Identifying people at risk at earlier stages is important,” she said. “Old age may be too late.”

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