By Amir Khan
A common blood pressure drug may do more than just reduce your risk of heart attack, according to a new study in the journal BMJ Open — it may also help protect your brain. Researchers found that a class of drugs called ACE inhibitors slowed the rate of dementia in elderly patients and improved cognitive function, but experts say the results were too small to draw any conclusions from.
Researchers from University College Cork in Ireland looked at 361 healthy, elderly adults, and administered cognitive tests every six months from 1999 to 2010. Eighty-five of the participants whom were already taking ACE inhibitors when the study began, and 30 were prescribed them as part of the study. Researchers found that those already taking ACE inhibitors experienced slower mental decline than those who were not, and that participants who were newly prescribed the drug actually improved their score.
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“This study demonstrates an association between the use of [ACE inhibitors] and reduced rates of cognitive decline,” the researchers, led by William Molloy, chair of the center of gerontology and rehabilitation at University College Cork, wrote in the study. “This supports the growing body of evidence for the use of ACE-I’s and other antihypertensive agents in the management of dementia.”
However, the difference in test scores between those on the ACE inhibitors and those who weren’t was only a fraction of a point, which, while statistically significant, doesn’t mean much in the real world, says Kaycee Sink, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine and gerontology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
“The magnitude of difference between test scores is so tiny that it might not be clinically relevant,” Dr. Sink said. “You may not be able to even detect a difference between patients in the real world.”
The researchers specifically looked at a type of ACE inhibitor that can cross the blood-brain barrier, and Sink said the drug’s ability to do so is likely where to benefit comes from. In addition, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and other heart issues have been linked to an increased risk of dementia.
While doctors shouldn’t prescribe their dementia patients ACE inhibitors, for those who have both dementia and high blood pressure, the slowed cognitive decline is just an added benefit, Sink said.
“If someone with dementia needs an ACE inhibitor, then picking one that crosses the blood-brain barrier instead of one that doesn’t is smart,” Sink said, “But clinicians shouldn’t start patients with dementia on these drugs just to help it. If they have another reason to need an ACE inhibitor, then using one that has this effect makes sense.”
Ultimately, the researchers admitted that the effect is small, but said that it’s possible for the effect to be cumulative.
“Although the differences were small and of uncertain clinical significance,” they wrote in the study, “if sustained over years, the compounding effects may well have significant clinical benefits.”
"Blood Pressure Meds May Ward Off Dementia, Study Finds" originally appeared on Everyday Health.