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

Should We Use Supplements For Cardiovascular Health?

Posted July 10, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Are You Just Wasting Your Money On Supplements?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

supplements for cardiovascular health wast moneyYou’ve seen the headlines. “Recent Study Finds Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.”  You are being told that supplements are of no benefit to you. They are a waste of money. You should follow a healthy diet instead. Is all of this true?

If I were like most bloggers, I would give you a simple yes or no answer that would be only partially correct. Instead, I am going to put the study behind these headlines into perspective. I am going to give you a deeper understanding of supplementation, so you can make better choices for your health.

 Should we use supplements for cardiovascular health?

In today’s article I will give you a brief overview of the subject. Here are the topics I will cover today:

  • Is this fake news?
  • Did the study ask the right questions?
  • Is this a question of “Garbage In – Garbage Out?
  • Reducing Heart Disease Risk. What you need to know.

All these topics are covered in much more detail (with references) in my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths”, which will be published this fall.

 

How Was This Study Done?

supplements for cardiovascular healthThis study (D.J.A. Jenkins et al, Journal of the American College Of Cardiology, 71: 2540-2584, 2018 ) was a meta-analysis. Simply put, that means the authors combined the results of many previous studies into a single database to increase the statistical power of their conclusions. This study included 127 randomized control trials published between 2012 and December 2017. These were all studies that included supplementation and looked at cardiovascular end points, cancer end points or overall mortality.

Before looking at the results, it is instructive to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the study. Rather than giving you my interpretation, let me summarize what the authors said about strengths and weaknesses of their own study.

The strengths are obvious. Randomized control trials are considered the gold standard of evidence-based medicine, but they have their weaknesses. Here is what the authors said about the limitations of their study:

  • “Randomized control trials are of shorter duration, whereas longer duration studies might be required to fully capture chronic disease risk.”
  • “Dose-response data were not usually available [from the randomized control studies included in their analysis]. However, larger studies would allow the effect of dose to be assessed.”

There are some other limitations of this study, which I will point out below.

Is This Fake News?

supplements for cardiovascular health fake newsWhen I talk about “fake news” I am referring to the headlines, not to the study behind the headlines. The headlines were definitive: “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.” However, when you read the study the reality is quite different:

  • In contrast to the negative headlines, the study reported:
    • Folic acid supplementation decreased stroke risk by 20% and overall heart disease risk by 17%.
    • B complex supplements containing folic acid, B6, and B12 decreased stroke risk by 10%.
    • That’s a big deal, but somehow the headlines forgot to mention it.
  • The supplements that had no significant effect on heart disease risk (multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C) were ones that would not be expected to lower heart disease risk. There was little evidence from previous studies of decreased risk. Furthermore, there is no plausible mechanism for supposing they might decrease heart disease risk.
  • The study did not include vitamin E or omega-3 supplements, which are the ones most likely to prove effective in decreasing heart disease risk when the studies are done properly (see below).

Did The Study Ask The Right Question?

Most of the studies included in this meta-analysis were asking whether a supplement decreased heart disease risk or mortality for everyone. Simply put, the studies started with a group of generally healthy Americans and asked whether supplementation had a significant effect on disease risk for everyone in that population.

That is the wrong question. We should not expect supplementation to benefit everyone equally. Instead, we should be asking who is most likely to benefit from supplementation and design our clinical studies to test whether those people benefit from supplementation.

supplements for cardiovascular health diagramI have created the graphic on the right as a guide to help answer the question of “Who is most likely to benefit from supplementation?”. Let me summarize each of the points using folic acid as the example.

 

Poor Diet: It only makes sense that those people who are deficient in folate from foods are the most likely to benefit from folic acid supplementation. Think about it for a minute. Would you really expect people who are already getting plenty of folate from their diet to obtain additional benefits from folic acid supplementation?

The NIH estimates that around 20% of US women of childbearing age are deficient in folic acid. For other segments of our population, dietary folate insufficiency ranges from 5-10%. Yet, most studies of folic acid supplementation lump everyone together – even though 80-95% of the US population is already getting enough folate through foods, food fortification, and supplementation. It is no wonder most studies fail to find a beneficial effect of folic acid supplementation.

The authors of the meta-analysis I discussed above said that the beneficial effects of folic acid they saw might have been influenced by a very large Chinese study, because a much higher percentage of Chinese are deficient in folic acid. They went on to say that the Chinese study needed to be repeated in this country.

In fact, the US study has already been done. A large study called “The Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE)” study reported that folic acid supplementation did not reduce heart disease risk in the whole population. However, when the study focused on the subgroup of subjects who were folate-deficient at the beginning of the study, folic acid supplementation significantly decreased their risk of heart attack and cardiovascular death.  This would seem to suggest using supplements for cardiovascular health is a good idea.

Increased Need: There are many factors that increase the need for certain nutrients. However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s only focus on medications. Medications that interfere with folic acid metabolism include anticonvulsants, metformin (used to treat diabetes), methotrexate and sulfasalazine (used to treat severe inflammation), birth control pills, and some diuretics. Use of these medications is not a concern when the diet is adequate. However, when you combine medication use with a folate-deficient diet, health risks are increased and supplementation with folic acid is more likely to be beneficial.

Genetic Predisposition: The best known genetic defect affecting folic acid metabolism is MTHFR. MTHFR deficiency does not mean you have a specific need for methylfolate. However, it does increase your need for folic acid. Again, this is not a concern when the diet is adequate. However, when you combine MTHFR deficiency with a folate-deficient diet, health risks are increased and supplementation with folic acid is more likely to be beneficial. I cover this topic in great detail in my upcoming book, “Slaying The Supplement Myths”. In the meantime, you might wish to view my video, “The Truth About Methyl Folate.”

Diseases: An underlying disease or predisposition to disease often increases the need for one or more nutrients that help reduce disease risk. The best examples of this are two major studies on the effect of vitamin E on heart disease risk in women. Both studies found no effect of vitamin E on heart disease risk in the whole population. However, one study reported that vitamin E reduced heart disease risk in the subgroup of women who were post-menopausal (when the risk of heart disease skyrockets). The other study found that vitamin E reduced heart attack risk in the subgroup of women who had pre-existing heart disease at the beginning of the study.

Finally, if you look at the diagram closely, you will notice a red circle in the middle. When two or three of these factors overlap, that is the “sweet spot” where supplementation is almost certain to make a difference and it may be a good idea to use supplements for cardiovascular health.

Is This A Question Of “Garbage In, Garbage Out”?

supplements for cardiovascular health garbage in outUnfortunately, most clinical studies focus on the “Does everyone benefit from supplementation question?” rather than the “Who benefits from supplementation?” question.

In addition, most clinical studies of supplementation are based on the drug model. They are studying supplementation with a single vitamin or mineral, as if it were a drug. That’s unfortunate, because vitamins and minerals work together synergistically. What we need are more studies of holistic supplementation approaches.

Until these two things change, most supplement studies are doomed to failure. They are doomed to give negative results. In addition, meta-analyses based on these faulty supplement studies will fall victim to what computer programmers refer to as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the data going into the analysis is faulty, the data coming out of the study will be equally faulty. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on. If you are looking for personal guidance on supplementation, this study falls into that category.

 

Should We Use Supplements For Cardiovascular Health?

 

If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for everyone, this meta-analysis is clear. Folic acid may decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. A B complex supplement may decrease the risk of stroke. All the other supplements they included in their analysis did not decrease heart disease risk, but the analysis did not include vitamin E and/or omega-3s.

However, if you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for you, this study provides no guidance. It did not ask the right questions.

I would be remiss, however, if I failed to point out that we know healthy diets can decrease heart disease risk. In the words of the authors: “The recent science-based report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, also concerned with [heart disease] risk reduction, recommended 3 dietary patterns: 1) a healthy American diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and meat, but high in fruits and vegetables; 2) a Mediterranean diet; and 3) a vegetarian diet. These diets, with their accompanying recommendations, continue the move towards more plant-based diets…” I cover the effect of diet on heart disease risk in detail in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths”.

 

The Bottom Line

 

You have probably seen the recent headlines proclaiming: “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.” The study behind the headlines was a meta-analysis of 127 randomized control trials looking at the effect of supplementation on heart disease risk and mortality.

  • The headlines qualify as “fake news” because:
    • The study found that folic acid decreased stroke and heart disease risk, and B vitamins decreased stroke risk. Somehow the headlines forgot to mention that.
    • The study found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C had no effect on heart disease risk. These are nutrients that were unlikely to decrease heart disease risk to begin with.
    • The study did not include vitamin E and omega-3s. These are nutrients that are likely to decrease heart disease risk when the studies are done properly.
  • The authors of the study stated that a major weakness of their study was that that randomized control studies included in their analysis were short term, whereas longer duration studies might be required to fully capture chronic disease risk.
  • The study behind the headlines is of little use for you as an individual because it asked the wrong question.
  • Most clinical studies focus on the “Does everyone benefit from supplementation question?” That is the wrong question. Instead we need more clinical studies focused on the “Who benefits from supplementation?” question. I discuss that question in more detail in the article above.
  • In addition, most clinical studies of supplementation are based on the drug model. They are studying supplementation with a single vitamin or mineral, as if it were a drug. That’s unfortunate, because vitamins and minerals work together synergistically. What we need are more studies of holistic supplementation approaches.
  • Until these two things change, most supplement studies are doomed to failure. They are doomed to give negative results. In addition, meta-analyses based on these faulty supplement studies will fall victim to what computer programmers refer to as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the data going into the analysis is faulty, the data coming out of the study will be equally faulty. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on. If you are looking for personal guidance on supplementation, this study falls into that category.
  • If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for everyone, this study is clear. Folic acid may decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. A B-complex supplement may decrease the risk of stroke. All the other supplements they included in their analysis did not decrease heart disease risk, but they did not include vitamin E and/or omega-3s in their analysis.
  • If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for you, this study provides no guidance. It did not ask the right questions.
  • However, we do know that healthy, plant-based diets can decrease heart disease risk. I cover heart healthy diets in detail in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths.”

 

For more details, 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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