Do Blood Pressure Medications Cause Memory Loss?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Uncategorized

Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Do blood pressure medications cause memory lossHigh blood pressure has been called a silent killer. This is because it is possible to go for years with high blood pressure and not even know it. Even worse, the consequences of untreated high blood pressure can be catastrophic – stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure, kidney failure – the list goes on and on.  But, what about when high blood pressure is treated?  Do blood pressure medications cause memory loss?

Because of that, the standard medical recommendation for years has been to:

  • Have your blood pressure tested frequently (at least once a year if your blood pressure is in the normal range and more frequently if it is elevated).
  • If your blood pressure is elevated, get on a blood pressure medication and try to keep your blood pressure as close to normal as possible.

But, is this always the best advice? Maybe not, particularly when we consider the confusing effects of blood pressure on cognitive function.

We have known for years that untreated high blood pressure in middle aged individuals significantly increases the probability that they will suffer cognitive decline in their later years (for example, R. F. Gottesman et al, JAMA Neurology, 71: 1218-1227, 2014).

Conversely, when we look at the elderly as a group we find that those with the lowest blood pressure actually have a higher risk of cognitive decline than those with the highest blood pressure (for example, B. Sabayan et al, Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 60: 2014-2019, 2012).

How can we reconcile such conflicting data on the correlation between blood pressure and cognitive decline in the elderly? Could it possibly be that it was the blood pressure drugs rather than blood pressure itself that was causing cognitive decline in the elderly?

Do Blood Pressure Medications Cause Memory Loss?

blood pressure medicationsA group of scientists in Italy set up a clinical study to determine whether blood pressure or use of blood pressure drugs better correlated with cognitive decline in elderly patients who already have some degree of cognitive impairment (E. Mossello et al, JAMA Internal Medicine, doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8164).

They enrolled 172 patients from 2 outpatient memory clinics in the study. The average age of the participants was 79 and all of them had some degree of cognitive impairment (68% with dementia and 32% with mild cognitive impairment). 70% of the study participants were on blood pressure drugs. Their blood pressure was measured on a daily basis, and they were tested for cognitive function at the beginning of the study and 9 months later.

The results of the study concerning:

  • Those with the lowest blood pressure had the highest rate of cognitive decline over the 9 month period. These results were similar to several previous clinical trials with the elderly.
  • The association between low blood pressure and cognitive decline was only seen in those subjects on blood pressure medications. Low blood pressure did not increase the risk of cognitive decline in unmedicated subjects.

There are, of course, some significant limitations to this study:

  • It is a small study of short duration.
  • It is the first study of its kind. It needs to be repeated.
  • It was done in an elderly population who already suffered from cognitive decline. We don’t yet know to what extent these conclusions will apply to younger people and to people without cognitive impairment.

Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?

However, this study does raise a huge red flag that needs to be evaluated very carefully. It raises the issue of whether aggressive drug treatment to bring blood pressure under control may, under some conditions, cause more problems than it cures. It is not unlike the study a few years ago showing that aggressive treatment to lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics actually increased the death rate (C. J. Currie et al, The Lancet, 375: 481-489, 2010).

It turns out that increased risk of cognitive decline is just one of several risks associated with aggressive drug treatment to lower blood pressure. Because of that realization an expert panel recently recommended that the threshold for the use of blood pressure drugs be raised from 130/90 to 140/90 for adults under 60 and to 150/90 for adults over 60.

Do blood pressure medications cause memory loss?  It’s not that high blood pressure has suddenly become healthier. Rather, the experts realized that the risks of aggressive drug treatment to lower moderately elevated blood pressure outweighed the benefits. The cure was worse than the disease!

Is There Another Option?

dash dietThe answer is a resounding yes, and we have known about it for years. It is called the DASH (Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension) diet. It is recommended by the American Heart Association, the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the US Guidelines for Treatment of High Blood Pressure). Coupled with a few simple lifestyle changes it has been shown to be as effective as drugs at reducing high blood pressure, without the side effects of the drugs.

You can find the details of the DASH diet here (http://dashdiet.org/), but in simple terms, it is low in fat, high in fresh fruits and vegetable, fiber and low fat dairy products. The recommended lifestyle changes are weight control, restricted sodium intake and exercise.

Although not all experts agree, I personally recommend that you also make sure that you are getting the DV for calcium, magnesium and vitamin D from food and supplements and consider supplementing with long chain omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols – especially resveratrol and related polyphenols from grape skins and seeds.

 

The Bottom Line

  • High blood pressure is a silent killer because people often don’t know they have it. If left untreated it can cause stroke, heart attack, congestive heart failure and kidney failure.
  • However, a recent study suggested that aggressive drug treatment to treat high blood pressure in the elderly can increase the rate of cognitive decline.
  • Because of this and other risks associated with aggressive drug treatment for high blood pressure, especially in the elderly, an expert panel recently recommended that the threshold for the use of blood pressure drugs be raised from 130/90 to 140/90 for adults under 60 and to 150/90 for adults over 60.
  • It’s not that high blood pressure has suddenly become healthier. Rather, the experts realized that the risks of aggressive drug treatment to lower moderately elevated blood pressure outweighed the benefits. The cure was worse than the disease!
  • Fortunately, there is another option, namely the DASH diet. The DASH diet, along with a few simple lifestyle modifications, has been shown to be as effective as drugs at reducing high blood pressure without the side effects of high blood pressure medications. Both the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommend that the DASH diet and lifestyle changes be tried first, before considering use of blood pressure medications.
  • Although not all experts agree, I personally recommend that you also make sure that you are getting the DV for calcium, magnesium and vitamin D from food and supplements and consider supplementing with long chain omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols – especially resveratrol and related polyphenols from grape skins and seeds.
  • Finally, high blood pressure is dangerous. Don’t ignore it. Get your blood pressure tested regularly. If it is elevated, talk with your doctor about the best combination of diet, and lifestyle change and whether medications are absolutely necessary to keep your blood pressure under control.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

Are Pregnant Women and Children Dangerously Deficient in Omega-3s?

Posted August 13, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

What Is The Omega-3 Status Of The American Population?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

pregnant women omega 3 deficient fishIt is no secret that the American population is deficient in omega-3s. Numerous studies have documented that fact. There are many reasons for Americans’ low intake of omega-3s:

  • The high price of omega-3-rich fish.
  • Concerns about sustainability, heavy metal contamination, and/or PCB contamination of omega-3 rich fish.
  • Misleading headlines claiming that omega-3 supplements are worthless and may even do you harm.

Of course, the questions you are asking are probably?

  • How deficient are we?
  • Does it matter?

The latest study (M Thompson et al, Nutrients, 2019, 11: 177, doi: 10.3390/nu11010177) goes a long way towards answering those important questions.

How Was The Study Done?

scientific studyThis study used data on 45,347 Americans who participated in NHANES surveys between 2003 and 2014. (NHANES or National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys is a program run by the CDC that is designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children living in the United States).

EPA and DHA intake from foods was based on the average of two 24-hour dietary recall interviews. Trained dietary interviewers collected detailed information on all foods and beverages consumed during the past 24 hours.

To assess EPA and DHA intake from supplements study participants were asked what supplements they had taken in the past 30 days, how many days out of 30 they had taken it, and the amount that was taken on those days.

 

What Is The Omega-3 Status Of The American Population?

 

omega 3 statusThe results of the NHANES surveys were shocking.

In terms of total EPA+DHA intake:

  • EPA+DHA intake across all age groups was lower than recommended.
  • Toddlers (ages 1-5), children (ages 6-11), and adolescents (ages 12-19) had lower EPA+DHA intakes than adults (ages 20-55) and seniors (ages > 55).
  • Women had lower EPA+DHA intakes than men.
  • Pregnant women and women of childbearing age did not differ in their EPA+DHA.
  • Pregnant women consumed less fish than women of childbearing age (perhaps because of concerns about heavy metal contamination).
  • Pregnant women consumed more omega-3 supplements.

In terms of EPA+DHA from supplements:

  • Less than 1% of the American population reported using omega-3 supplements.
  • The one exception was pregnant women. 7.3% of pregnant women reported taking an omega-3 supplement.
  • People taking omega-3 supplements had significantly higher EPA+DHA intake than people not taking omega-3 supplements.
  • This was also true for pregnant women. Those taking omega-3 supplements had higher EPA+DHA intake.

Of course, like any clinical study, it has strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest weakness of this study is that omega-3 intake is based on the participants recall of what they ate. The strengths of the study are its size (45,347 participants) and the fact that its estimate of omega-3 intake is consistent with several smaller studies.

 

Are Americans Deficient In Omega-3s?

 

pregnant women omega 3 deficient questionsNow we are ready to answer the questions I posed at the beginning of this article. Let’s start with the first one: “How deficient are we?”

You would think the answer to that question would be easy. It is not. This study provides a precise estimate of American’s omega-3 intake. The problem is there is no consensus as to how much omega-3s we need. There is no RDA for omega-3s.

There are, in fact, three sets of guidelines for how much omega-3s we need, and they disagree.

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for EPA+DHA intake range from 100-150 mg/day at ages 2-4 years to 200-500 mg/day for adults.
  • The US National Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations for EPA+DHA intake range from 70 mg/day for ages 1-3 to 110 mg/day for adult females and 160 mg/day for adult males.
  • As if that weren’t confusing enough, an international group of experts recently convened for a “Workshop on the Essentiality of and Recommended Dietary Intakes for Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids” (Workshop). This group recommended an EPA+DHA intake of 440 mg/day for adults and 520 mg/day for pregnant and lactating women.

Using these recommendations as guidelines, this study reported that:

  • EPA+DHA intake for children 1-5 years old was ~25% of the WHO recommendations and ~40% of IOM recommendations.
  • EPA+DHA intake for children 6-11 years old was ~27% of WHO recommendations and ~40% of IOM recommendations.
  • EPA+DHA intake for adolescents 12-19 years old was ~50% of IOM recommendations (The WHO did not have a separate category for adolescents.
  • EPA+DHA intake for adults 20-55 years old was ~30% of WHO recommendations, and ~65% of IOM recommendations.
  • EPA+DHA intake for seniors >55 years old was 38% of WHO recommendations and 82% of IOM recommendations.
  • EPA+DHA intake for pregnant women was ~20% of Workshop recommendations (The WHO and IOM did not have a separate category for pregnant women).

While the percentage deficiency varied according to the EPA+DHA guidelines used, it is clear from these results that Americans of all age groups are not getting enough omega-3s from their diet.

The authors concluded: “We found omega-3 intakes across all age groups was lower than recommended amounts.”

 

Are Pregnant Women and Young Children Dangerously Deficient In Omega-3s?

 

danger symbolWhile the authors concluded that all age groups were deficient in omega-3s, they were particularly concerned about the omega-3 deficiencies in pregnant women and young children.

The authors said: “Taken together, these findings demonstrate that low omega-3 fatty acid intake is consistent among the US population and could increase the risk for adverse health outcomes, particularly in vulnerable populations (e.g., young children and pregnant women).”

In part, the focus on young children and pregnant women was based on their very low omega-3 intake. With intakes at 20-27% of recommended levels, I would consider these groups to be dangerously deficient in omega-3s.

pregnant women omega 3 deficient pregnancyHowever, the focus on young children and pregnant women was also based on the seriousness of the adverse health outcomes associated with low omega-3 intake in these population groups. This answers the second question I posed at the beginning of this article: “Does it matter?”

According to the authors low intake of EPA and DHA during pregnancy and early childhood is associated with maternal depression, pre-term births, low birth-weight babies, increased risk of allergies and asthma, problems with learning and cognition, and other neurocognitive outcomes.

None of these associations between low omega-3 intake and adverse health outcomes have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the evidence is strong enough that we should be alarmed by the very low omega-3 intake in pregnant women and young children.

There is, however, a simple solution. The authors of this study concluded: “Individuals taking EPA/DHA containing supplements had significantly elevated intake compared to individuals not taking omega-3 fatty acid-containing supplements or not reporting any supplement use.”

omega 3 supplementsThey went on to say: “As supplement use is associated with increased omega-3 intake, supplementation could be an important source of EPA/DHA, particularly for pregnant women given their lower fish consumption compared to non-pregnant women of childbearing age.”

I agree. Given the low omega-3 intake in these population group and current guidelines for omega-3 intake. I recommend:

  • Pregnant & lactating women (and women of childbearing age who might become pregnant) take an omega-3 supplement providing around 520 mg of EPA+DHA/day.
  • Young children (ages 1-5) take an omega-3 supplement providing around 100 mg of DHA/day.

Of course, this study also confirmed that Americans of all age groups are not getting enough omega-3s from their diet, and low omega-3 intake may increase the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that high purity omega-3 supplements may reduce heart disease risk.

You will find my recommendations for omega-3 supplementation for adults in a previous issue of “Health Tips From the Professor.”

 

The Bottom Line

 

The largest study to date (45,347 participants) measured omega-3 intake for Americans of all ages and compared that to current recommendations for omega-3 intake.

The authors of the study concluded:

  • “We found omega-3 intakes across all age groups was lower than recommended amounts.”
  • “Low omega-3 fatty acid intake … could increase the risk for adverse health outcomes, particularly in vulnerable populations (e.g., young children and pregnant women.”

In part, the focus on young children and pregnant women was based on their very low omega-3 intake. With intakes at 20-27% of recommended levels, I would consider these groups to be dangerously deficient in omega-3s.

However, the focus on young children and pregnant women was also based on the seriousness of the adverse health outcomes associated with low omega-3 intake in these population groups.

  • According to the authors low intake of EPA and DHA during pregnancy and early childhood is associated with maternal depression, pre-term births, low birth-weight babies, increased risk of allergies and asthma, problems with learning and cognition, and other neurocognitive outcomes.

There is, however, a simple solution. The authors of this study also concluded:

  • “Individuals taking EPA/DHA containing supplements had significantly elevated intake compared to individuals not taking omega-3 fatty acid-containing supplements or not reporting any supplement use.”
  • “As supplement use is associated with increased omega-3 intake, supplementation could be an important source of EPA/DHA, particularly for pregnant women given their lower fish consumption compared to non-pregnant women of childbearing age.”

For more details on the study and my recommendations for omega-3 supplementation, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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