Tag: hypertension

Raised Blood Pressure is the Leading Risk Factor for Death in Australia

Hypertension has contributed at least 44% to CVD deaths over thirty years, more than dietary factors and tobacco

Raised blood pressure has been the leading risk factor for death in Australia for the past three decades, according to a study published February 21, 2024, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE led by Alta Schutte and Xiaoyue Xu from The George Institute for Global Health and UNSW, Sydney, with colleagues across Australia. It is also the main contributor to deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) specifically.

Raised blood pressure has long been recognized as a contributing factor to CVD and death, but is not always prioritized in national health plans. In this study, researchers focused on Australia, which lags behind other high-income countries in hypertension control. Data on how raised blood pressure compares to other risk factors for CVD burden – and how this changes over time – can help to guide public health agendas and inform the effectiveness of public health policies.

Researchers analysed epidemiologic data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study between 1990 and 2019 to determine the leading risk factors associated with both all-cause and CVD deaths, over time and between gender and age groups. The GBD study provides data on nearly 400 diseases and 87 risk factors across 204 countries.

They found that while the contribution of raised blood pressure to these outcomes declined early in the study period (from around 54% to around 44%), it persisted as the leading risk factor for all-cause and CVD deaths. Dietary factors and tobacco use rounded out the top three risk factors. These findings strongly align with the recently established National Hypertension Taskforce of Australia, which aims to improve Australia’s blood pressure control rates from 32% to 70% by 2030 (Hypertension – Australian Cardiovascular Alliance [ozheart.org]). The research findings further advocate for the prioritisation of blood pressure control on the public health agenda.

Differences by gender and age were also seen. For example, the contribution of raised blood pressure to stroke-related deaths in males aged 25–49 years were higher than other age groups, exceeding 60% and increasing steeply over time.

The study reinforces the importance of blood pressure control and awareness. The researchers hope that the data will urge policymakers to prioritise blood pressure control efforts in Australia and will provide insight into age groups and populations that would benefit from more targeted action.

The authors add: “There is no doubt that raised blood pressure has remained the leading risk factor for all-cause and cardiovascular deaths in Australia across the past three decades. Our findings support actions to strengthen primary care and to improve the prevention, detection, treatment and control of raised blood pressure, with the goal of significantly reducing all-cause and cardiovascular deaths in Australia over the next decade.”

Long-term Blood Pressure Control from Bariatric Surgery is Most Effective

Sleeve gastrectomy. Credit: Scientific Animations CC4.0

Compared to antihypertensives alone, bariatric surgery is more effective in controlling hypertension rates in people with obesity and uncontrolled hypertension, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. People who underwent bariatric surgery had lower BMI and were on fewer medications after five years while maintaining normal blood pressure levels than those who only used antihypertensive medications.

“In clinical practice, obesity is an overlooked condition. As a consequence, there is a frequent failure in approaching obesity as a crucial step for mitigating the risk of important cardiovascular risk factors including hypertension,” said Carlos Aurelio Schiavon, MD, FACS, lead author of the study and a surgeon specialising in bariatric surgery at Heart Hospital (hcor) and BP Hospital in Sao Paulo.

Researchers in this study looked at the impact of treating obesity to lower hypertension. While new weight loss drugs exist, long-term adherence to medication can be challenging.

This study looks at bariatric surgery as a better long-term solution to control obesity and, as a result, hypertension.

The GATEWAY trial included 100 people (76% of whom were female) who had a body mass index (BMI) of around 36.9kg/m2. All participants had hypertension and were using at least two medications. People with previous cardiovascular events and poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes were excluded.

Subjects were assigned to either Roux-en-Y gastric bypass with medical therapy or medial therapy alone and the primary outcome was reduction of at least 30% antihypertensive medications while maintaining blood pressure levels less than 140/90mmHg at five years.

At five years, BMI was 28.01kg/mfor those who received bariatric surgery and 36.40kg/mfor those on medical therapy alone.

People who had bariatric surgery had an 80.7% reduction in the number of medications they were taking compared to a 13.7% reduction in those only using medical therapy.

Hypertension remission, defined as controlled blood pressure without medications, was 46.9% in those who underwent bariatric surgery compared to 2.4% in those on medical therapy alone.

“Our results underscore the importance of approaching obesity in reducing hypertension rates,” Schiavon said.

Limitations of the study include that it was a single-center, open-label study with a small sample size and there was loss of follow up in some patients.

In an accompanying editorial comment, Michael Hall, MD, MSc, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said the study provides important long-term data on the benefits of gastric bypass on weight loss and blood pressure control, but questions remain.

“Further studies assessing the threshold for bariatric surgery in people with obesity, optimal timing of bariatric surgery in obese people with cardiometabolic diseases, type of bariatric surgery and comparative studies of obesity pharmacotherapies and bariatric surgery are needed to clarify the optimal treatment pathways for this common and growing disease,” he said.

Source: American College of Cardiology

Reduced Blood Lead Levels Tied to Lower Blood Pressure

Credit: Pixabay CC0

Researchers found that small declines in blood lead levels were associated with long-term cardiovascular health improvements in American Indian adults. Participants who had the greatest reductions in blood lead levels saw their systolic blood pressure fall by about 7mmHg, comparable to the effects of antihypertensives.

The findings as reported from researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and NIEHS and NHLBI are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“This is a huge win for public health,” said senior author Anne E. Nigra, PhD, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

“We saw that even small decreases in a person’s blood lead levels can have meaningful health outcomes.”

Nigra and her co- authors, including Wil Lieberman-Cribbin, MPH, also at Columbia Mailman School, credit these improvements in large part to public health and policy changes that have occurred over the last few decades.

In addition to seeing improvements in systolic blood pressure, the investigators found that reductions in blood lead levels were associated with reductions in a marker associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and heart failure.

To conduct this research, investigators partnered with 285 American Indian adults through an extension of the Strong Heart Study, the largest study following cardiovascular health outcomes and risk factors among American Indian adults.

The researchers looked at blood lead levels and blood pressure readings over time in participants living in one of four tribal communities. Lead was first measured in blood collected during the 1997–1999 study visit and again in blood collected during a follow-up visit between 2006–2009.

During this time, participants’ blood pressure was taken and they participated in medical exams, including echocardiographs to assess their heart’s structure and function. Multiple factors were controlled for, including social variables, cardiovascular disease risks, and medical history.

At the start of the study, the average blood lead level was 2.04µg/dL. Throughout the study, the average blood lead level fell by 0.67µg/dL, or 33%.

The most significant changes, categorized by participants with average starting blood lead levels of 3.21 µg/dL and who experienced reductions of about 1.78 µg/dL, or 55%, were linked to a 7mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure.

“This is a sign that whatever is happening in these communities to reduce blood lead levels is working,” said Mona Puggal, MPH, an epidemiologist in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). “The reductions in blood pressure are also comparable to improvements you would see with lifestyle changes, such as getting 30 minutes of daily exercise, reducing salt intake, or losing weight.”

The reductions in blood lead levels observed in the study are similar to those seen in the general US population following policies and efforts implemented within the past 50 years to reduce lead exposure through paint, gasoline, water, plumbing, and canned items.

Source: Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

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Intensive BP Target of Under 120mmHg Yields even Better Outcomes

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An intensive three-year intervention to lower systolic blood pressure (BP) to less than 120mmHg was more effective at preventing death, heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular events in adults at high risk for cardiovascular disease, compared to the standard treatment target of under 140mmHg, according to late-breaking science presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2023.

“Our study provides evidence to support targeting systolic blood pressure to less than 120mmHg in hypertensive patients with high cardiovascular risk and normal or mild-reduced kidney function, regardless of their diabetes status (Type 1, Type 2 or none) or history of stroke,” said lead study author Jing Li, MD, PhD, director of the department of preventive medicine at the National Center for Cardiovascular Diseases in Beijing, China.

The researchers conducted a multi-centre, randomised controlled trial to evaluate the effects of an intensive blood pressure-lowering strategy on the incidence of major cardiovascular events, including heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular death, revascularisation, or hospitalisation or emergency room visit for heart failure, in participants with increased cardiovascular risk.

Participants in the ESPRIT trial were randomised to receive intensive antihypertensive treatment with a systolic BP target of less than 120mmHg (using higher doses and multiple classes of drugs) or standard treatment, with a target measurement of under 140mmHg over a three-year period. Safety was assessed between treatment groups by comparing serious adverse events among participants.

The researchers found that after two years, participants in the intensive treatment group had significantly better outcomes than those receiving standard care. Compared with the standard treatment, the intensive treatment strategy prevented:

  • 12% of heart attacks, stroke, revascularisation procedures, death from cardiovascular causes and hospitalisation or emergency room visit for heart failure;
  • 39% of deaths from cardiovascular causes; and
  • 21% of deaths from any cause.
  • There was no significant difference in serious adverse events of hypotension, electrolyte abnormality, fall resulting in an injury, acute kidney injury or renal failure.

Syncope, or fainting, was one of the serious adverse events used to evaluate safety. Syncope occurred at a rate of 0.4% per year in the intensive group and 0.1% in the standard group. This means that for every 1000 patients receiving the intensive treatment for 3 years, 3 patients would experience a serious adverse event of syncope, while 14 major vascular events and 8 deaths would be further prevented, Li noted.

“These results provide evidence that intensive hypertension treatment focused on achieving systolic blood pressure of less than 120mmHg is beneficial and safe for individuals with high blood pressure and increased cardiovascular risk factors,” Li said. “Implementing this intensive treatment strategy for high-risk adults has the potential to save more lives and reduce the public health burden of heart disease worldwide.”

Study details and background:

  • The ESPRIT trial included 11,255 adults in China. Participants had a baseline systolic blood pressure measurement of 130–180mmHg and either established cardiovascular disease or at least two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • Participants were an average age of 64.6 years; 41.3% women and 58.7% men.
  • Approximately 27% of the study participants had a history of stroke; approximately 29% had previous coronary heart disease; and approximately 39% had diabetes, Type 1 or Type 2.
  • The trial’s primary outcome was a composite outcome of heart attack, coronary or non-coronary revascularisation, hospitalisation/emergency room visit for heart failure, stroke or CV death. Secondary outcomes included CV outcomes, kidney outcomes and cognitive outcomes.

Study limitations included that the cardiovascular benefits of the intensive intervention emerged after two years, while the intervention only lasted three years, meaning the relatively short study period may underestimate the benefits, Li said. In addition, the study was conducted in China and therefore, the results may not be generalisable to people in other racial and ethnic groups or living in other countries. However, Li also noted that the results were consistent with similar studies in people of other racial and ethnic groups.

Future work will involve examining the longer-term effects of the intensive intervention strategy over the follow-up period.

Source: American Heart Association

Only 30% of Adults Discuss OTC Pain Relievers with Doctors Despite Hypertension Risk

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Only about 30% of US adults have spoken with their health care professional about the adverse effects some over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can have on blood pressure. The findings are part of a recent online poll commissioned by the American Heart Association.

Some pain relievers may raise blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association’s most recent Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Management of High Blood Pressure

“It’s paramount that people who have high blood pressure, or are at risk for it, understand the effects associated with some over-the-counter pain relievers,” said Mitchell S. V. Elkind, MD, MS, FAHA, chief clinical science officer of the American Heart Association and a tenured professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University. “A conversation with a health care professional about pain relief options is essential to preventing and managing high blood pressure.”

High blood pressure affects almost half of all people in the US. According to the American Heart Association’s recent poll, of those who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, white and Asian adults (40%) are significantly less likely than Black (54.2%) and Hispanic (54.1%) adults to have ever discussed the effect some pain relievers have on blood pressure with a health care professional.
“Some over-the-counter pain relievers are safer than others,” added Elkind. “A conversation with a health care professional regularly about medications you or a loved one takes is an important step in finding safe options and controlling blood pressure.”

The poll conducted by Big Village, a collaborative and consultative research firm, also looked at how often people used OTC pain relievers. Of the close to 3000 US adults aged 18 and older surveyed, nearly 50% took medication for pain once a week or more. Adults aged 45-54 take them most frequently of all age groups polled. Additional findings include:

  • Gen X, people born from 1965 to 1980, are significantly more likely than other generations to take OTC pain relievers multiple times a day, but only 41% of Gen X would initially ask a health care professional for alternative pain relief even if they knew some OTC pain relievers can raise a person’s blood pressure.
  • Gen Z, people born from 1997 to 2012, are significantly less likely (30.5%) than any other generation to initially ask their health care professional for alternative pain relief if they knew some OTC pain relievers can raise a person’s blood pressure.
  • 61% of all respondents had not discussed the effect some over-the-counter pain relievers have on blood pressure with a health care professional.
  • 22% would research an alternative pain reliever online, second only to discussing with a health care professional.

Source: American Heart Association

Researchers ID Two Probiotics that can Help Bring Down Hypertension

Recent studies suggest that probiotics may offer a protective effect against hypertension, but how gut microbiota can regulate blood pressure has remained something of a mystery. Now a study published in mSystems showed that two probiotics, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, returned blood pressure in hypertensive mouse models to normal levels. The researchers also tracked how those probiotics altered the animals’ gut microbial mix over 16 weeks, identifying specific microbes and metabolic pathways that may help explain the protective effect. 

“Accumulated evidence supports an antihypertensive effect of probiotics and probiotic fermented foods in both in vitro and in vivo experiments,” said computational biologist Jun Li, PhD, at the City University of Hong Kong. Her team worked with that of microbiologist Zhihong Sun, PhD, at Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, on the study. “So, we believed that the dietary intake of probiotic foods would well supplement traditional hypertension treatment.” 

Previous studies have connected the rising rates of hypertension worldwide to increasing consumption of sugar. It likely boosts blood pressure through many mechanisms, such as increased insulin resistance or salt retention, but in recent years researchers have also investigated sugar’s effect on the gut microbiome. 

In the new study, the researchers tested the two probiotic strains on mice that developed hypertension after consuming water mixed with fructose. Over the course of 16 weeks, they measured the animals’ blood pressures every 4 weeks. They found that fructose-fed mice that received either probiotic showed significantly lower blood pressures than those fed a high fructose diet and not treated with probiotics. 

In addition, the researchers found no difference between the blood pressure readings of fructose-fed mice that received probiotics and a control group of mice that only drank water. According to Li, that suggests probiotic interventions would maintain blood pressure at normal levels. 

The researchers used shotgun metagenomic sequencing to probe connections between the altered gut microbiota and the change in blood pressure. They found that a high-fructose diet in the mice led to an increase in Bacteroidetes and a decrease in Firmicutes bacteria; however, treatment with probiotics returned those populations to those found in the control group. In addition, the analysis identified new microbial signatures associated with blood pressure: Increased levels of Lawsonia and Pyrolobus bacteria, and reduced levels of Alistipes and Alloprevotella, were associated with lower blood pressure. 

The researchers are now planning a large clinical trial to see if the protective effect of probiotics extend to people with hypertension. “Probiotics present a promising avenue in preventive medicine,” Sun said, “offering potential in regulating hypertension and reshaping our approach to cardiovascular health.”

Source: American Society for Microbiology

In Women, Poor Quality Sleep may Increase Hypertension Risk

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Getting enough sleep is becoming more of a challenge in today’s busy society. New research from investigators in the Channing Division of Network Medicine of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, highlights why getting a good night’s sleep is critical to staying healthy. Their research unveils that women who struggled with getting enough sleep were at greater risk of developing hypertension, or high blood pressure. Results are published in the journal Hypertension.

“These findings suggest that individuals who struggle with symptoms of insomnia may be at risk of hypertension and could benefit from preemptive screening,” explained Shahab Haghayegh, PhD, a research fellow at the Brigham and Harvard Medical School. “Hypertension is associated with many other physical and mental health complications. The sooner we can identify individuals with high blood pressure and treat them for it, the better we can mitigate future health issues.”

Haghayegh and colleagues followed 66 122 participants between 25 and 42 years of age in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS2) cohort, all without hypertension at the study’s onset, over sixteen years (from 2001 until 2017). Investigators collected information on participants’ age, race, body mass index (BMI), diet, lifestyle, physical activity, history of sleep apnoea, and family history of hypertension and assessed the incidence of hypertension among the group every two years. They first began measuring sleep duration in 2001, then did so again in 2009, recording the average number of hours slept over a 24-hour period. They also tracked sleeping difficulties, such as having trouble falling or staying asleep or waking up early in the morning, collecting responses at several time points throughout the study.

Data analyses revealed that women with sleeping difficulties had higher BMIs, lower physical activity, and poorer diets, on average. Researcher also found that those who struggled with sleep were more likely to smoke and drink alcohol and have previously gone through menopause.

Among the 25 987 cases of hypertension documented over the follow-up, women who slept less than seven to eight hours a night had a significantly higher risk of developing hypertension, according to the data collected. Similarly, women who had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep were also more likely to develop hypertension. Waking up early in the morning was not associated with this increased risk. Notably, these associations, remained significant after controlling for participant shift work schedules (night versus day shifts) and chronotype (morningness versus eveningness).

While the exact nature of the relationship between sleep and risk of hypertension is unknown, Haghayegh said that sleep difficulties can lead to a chain of events that can increase sodium retention, arterial stiffness, and cardiac output, potentially leading to hypertension. Disruptions to the sleep/wake cycle can also influence blood vessel constriction/relaxation activity and the function of cells that regulate the vascular tone.

One limitation is that the study only looked at the association between sleep and hypertension in women, so researchers hope to expand their work to include men and non-binary participants. A second is that researchers could only collect data on sleep quality at select time points throughout the study. Some of the study’s strengths include the larger number of participants and length of follow-up duration.

Haghayegh emphasises that these findings do not indicate causality. He wants to understand why this association exists and how treating one condition may also treat the other. In future clinical studies, he aims to investigate if sleep medications could have a beneficial effect on blood pressure.

“I hope these findings further underscore the crucial role of quality sleep in our overall well-being. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends sleeping seven or more hours a night, and if you cannot fall or stay asleep, it might be worth exploring why that is,” said Haghayegh. “This study highlights yet another reason why getting a good night’s sleep is so important.”

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Cold Weather may Make Blood Pressure Control More Challenging

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Blood pressure among patients diagnosed with hypertension appeared to slightly increase and rates of systolic blood pressure being controlled during an outpatient visit appeared to slightly decrease during winter months, according to a new study presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions 2023.

Previous research has found that blood pressure varies with the seasons of the year, most of which is systolic blood pressure. The study authors sought to understand whether blood pressure control, defined in this study as less than 140/90mmHg among patients with hypertension, varied by season.

“Despite the smaller degree of systolic blood pressure variation in comparison to previous studies on seasonality in blood pressure, we were surprised to observe a large degree of change in blood pressure control between winter and summer months,” said lead study author Robert B. Barrett, a software engineer at the American Medical Association in Greenville, South Carolina. “Individuals with hypertension or values near the range of hypertension may benefit from periodic blood pressure monitoring and improvements in physical activity and nutritional patterns during winter months to offset adverse effects from seasonal blood pressure changes.”

The researchers reviewed electronic health records for 60 676 adults treated for hypertension between July 2018 and June 2023 at six health care centres. Each participant remained on their originally prescribed classes of antihypertensive drugs throughout the review period. The centres ranged from small health centres or clinics to large academic medical centres. Seasonal blood pressure readings were analysed to assess variations in blood pressure control during the northern hemisphere’s winter vs summer months (December through February vs June through August, respectively) as part of an American Medical Association-supported, quality-improvement program for clinicians and health care centres. Study participants were an average age of 62 years old; 52.3% identified as white race; 59.7% identified as female.

The analysis of the health records found that, on average, participants’ systolic blood pressure increased by up to 1.7mmHg in the winter months compared to the summer months. In addition, they found that blood pressure control rates decreased by up to 5% during the winter months.

Future directions for investigation might include analysing the frequency of heart disease and deaths during each season, the authors noted.

The study’s limitations include that the electronic health records did not capture a complete health history for each participant and that information collected for each patient was retrieved only from the institution where they were treated.

Source: American Heart Association

High Blood Pressure When Lying Down Linked to Increased Cardiovascular Risk

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People who had high blood pressure while lying flat on their backs had a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure or premature death, according to new research presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions 2023.

The autonomic nervous system regulates blood pressure in different body positions; but gravity may cause blood to pool when seated or upright, and the body is sometimes unable to properly regulate blood pressure during lying, seated and standing positions, the authors noted.

“If blood pressure is only measured while people are seated upright, cardiovascular disease risk may be missed if not measured also while they are lying supine on their backs,” said lead study author Duc M. Giao, a researcher and a 4th-year MD student at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

To examine body position, blood pressure and heart health risk, the researchers examined health data for 11 369 adults from the longitudinal Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. The data on supine and seated blood pressure was gathered during the enrolment period, ARIC visit 1, which took place between 1987–1989. Participants had their blood pressure taken while briefly lying down at a clinic. The average age of participants at that time was 54 years old; 56% of the group self-identified as female; and 25% of participants self-identified as Black race. Participants in this analysis were followed for an average of 25 to 28 years, up through ARIC visit 5, which includes health data collected from 2011–2013.

The researcher’s findings included:

  • 16% of participants who did not have high blood pressure (130/80 mm Hg or higher) while seated had high blood pressure while lying supine (flat on their backs), compared to 74% of those with seated high blood pressure who also had supine high blood pressure.
  • In comparison to participants who did not have high blood pressure while seated and supine, participants who had high blood pressure while seated and supine had a 1.6 times higher risk of developing coronary heart disease; a 1.83 times higher risk of developing heart failure; a 1.86 times higher risk of stroke; a 1.43 times higher risk of overall premature death; and a 2.18 times higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease
  • Participants who had high blood pressure while supine but not while seated had similar elevated risks as participants who had high blood pressure while both seated and supine.
  • Differences in blood pressure medication use did not affect these elevated risks in either group.

“Our findings suggest people with known risk factors for heart disease and stroke may benefit from having their blood pressure checked while lying flat on their backs,” Giao said.

“Efforts to manage blood pressure during daily life may help lower blood pressure while sleeping. Future research should compare supine blood pressure measurements in the clinic with overnight measurements.”

The study’s limitations included that it focused on adults who were middle-aged at the time of enrolment, meaning the results might not be as generalizable to older populations, Giao said.

Source: American Heart Association

Keeping Cardiovascular Risk in Check Safeguards against Dementia

Credit: Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares

A study published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity shows that brain metabolism, detected with advanced imaging techniques, declines more sharply in middle-aged people with a sustained high cardiovascular risk over 5 years

Cardiovascular disease and dementia frequently occur together in elderly people. Nevertheless, few longitudinal studies have examined how atherosclerosis and its associated risk factors affect brain health from middle age. Now, a new study by scientists at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC) in Madrid provides new data on this relationship; the results confirm the importance of controlling traditional cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle, not only to preserve cardiovascular health, but also to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. 

The CNIC study shows that atherosclerosis (accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries) and its associated risk factors, in addition to being the main cause of cardiovascular disease, are also implicated in the cerebral alterations typically found in Alzheimer’s disease, the most frequent cause of dementia.

According to study author Dr Valentín Fuster, CNIC General Director, the new findings are important because they open up the possibility of treating a modifiable disorder, ie cardiovascular disease, to prevent the development a presently untreatable disease – dementia. “The sooner we act to control cardiovascular risk factors, the better it is for our brain health,” said Dr. Fuster.

“Everybody knows that a healthy lifestyle and controlling cardiovascular risk factors are important for preventing a heart attack,” continued Dr Fuster. “Nevertheless, the additional information linking the same risk factors to a decline in brain health could further increase awareness of the need to acquire healthy habits from the earliest life stages.”

In 2021, CNIC scientists discovered that the presence of cardiovascular risk factors and subclinical (presymptomatic) atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries (the arteries that supply the brain) was associated with lower glucose metabolism in the brains of apparently healthy 50-year-old participants in the PESA-CNIC-Santander study. Glucose metabolism in the brain is considered an indicator of brain health.

The PESA-CNIC-Santander study directed by Dr Fuster is a prospective study that includes more than 4000 asymptomatic middle-aged participants who have been exhaustively assessed for the presence and progression of subclinical atherosclerosis since 2010.

Dr Fuster’s team, led by Drs Marta Cortés Canteli and Juan Domingo Gispert, have continued to monitor the cerebral health of these participants over 5 years. Their research shows that individuals who maintained a high cardiovascular risk throughout this period had a more pronounced reduction in cerebral glucose metabolism, detected using imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET).

“In participants with a sustained high cardiovascular risk, the decline in cerebral metabolism was three times greater than in participants who maintained a low cardiovascular risk,” commented Catarina Tristão-Pereira, first author on the study and INPhINIT fellow.

Glucose is the main energy source for neurons and other brain cells. “If there is a sustained decline in cerebral glucose consumption over several years, this may limit the brain ability to withstand neurodegenerative or cerebrovascular diseases in the future,” explained Dr Gispert, an expert in neuroimaging at the CNIC and Barcelonaβeta Research Center.

Through a collaboration with Drs Henrik Zetterberg and Kaj Blennow, world experts in the identification of new blood biomarkers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the CNIC team discovered that the individuals showing this metabolic decline already show signs of neuronal injury. “This is a particularly important finding because neuronal death is irreversible”, said Dr. Cortés Canteli, a neuroscientist at the CNIC and a Miguel Servet fellow at the Fundación Jiménez Díaz Health Research Institute.

The CNIC team also discovered that the progression of subclinical atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries over five years is linked to a metabolic decline in brain regions vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, in addition to the effect of cardiovascular risk factors. “These results provide yet another demonstration that the detection of subclinical atherosclerosis with imaging techniques provides highly relevant information,” said Dr Fuster, who is the principal investigator on the PESA study. “The interaction between the brain and the heart is a fascinating topic, and with this study we have seen that this relationship begins much earlier than was thought.”

The scientists conclude that, “carotid screening has great potential to identify individuals at risk of cerebral alterations and cognitive decline in the future.” In the published article they write, “this work could have important implications for clinical practice since it supports the implementation of primary cardiovascular prevention strategies early in life as a valuable approach for a  healthy cerebral longevity.”

“Although we still don’t know what impact this decline in cerebral metabolism has on cognitive function, the detection of neuronal injury in these individuals shows that the earlier we start to control cardiovascular risk factors, the better it will be for our brain,” concluded Dr Cortés Canteli.

Source: CNIC