Blood Pressure and Brain Health
We all know how dangerous high blood pressure is. It’s directly linked to problems like heart disease and strokes. But there’s a side effect to having high blood pressure that doesn’t always get talked about in mainstream studies: cognitive decline.
Nearly one in three Americans and nearly two-thirds of adults age 60 and older suffer from high blood pressure, making it one of the most notorious killers in the United States.
Having high blood pressure can directly affect your cognitive function, causing problems like brain fog and forgetfulness. It can even lead to more serious cognitive issues like vascular dementia. Fortunately, there are actionable steps you can take to manage your blood pressure, no matter your age. There are also treatment options, such as the research-based hyperbaric oxygen therapy program at Aviv Clinics, that target post-stroke and age-related cognitive decline.
What is high blood pressure?
Every blood vessel in your body requires a certain amount of pressure to stay intact. Without it, they’d collapse on themselves like a vacuum. It’s when your blood pressure wanders outside of the acceptable range that health problems start to happen. Low blood pressure is called “hypotension” and can cause problems like dizziness or fainting.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is common in the United States because of our high cholesterol diets, sedentary lifestyles, and high stress levels. The higher the blood pressure, the greater your risk for health problems, like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It also increases your risk for cognitive problems later in life.
What’s an acceptable blood pressure?
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, (mm and Hg). The upper number, systolic pressure, measures your heartbeats. The lower number, diastolic pressure, measures the time that your heart relaxes between beats. Normal levels of blood pressure are different for every person and depend on factors like age and weight. According to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, Stage 1 hypertension occurs at 130/80 mm Hg and Stage 2 hypertension occurs at or above 140/90 mm.
Unlike other health problems, high blood pressure is unique because it doesn’t present symptoms on its own. No one ever goes into the doctor’s office specifically because their blood pressure is too high. The only way most people even discover that their blood pressure is too high is when something more serious happens, like a clot. The only way to know if your blood pressure is at a healthy level is to measure it with a blood pressure machine at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or on a home blood pressure machine.
- Tip: A home blood pressure device is a worthwhile investment to monitor your health. High blood pressure may be a symptom of another illness. It’s always helpful to know what’s happening in your body when it comes to blood pressure and brain health. Take your measurements at the same time every day for consistency, as your blood pressure will naturally rise and fall during the day.
How does high blood pressure affect the brain?
While the exact connection between hypertension and brain function is still a little fuzzy, scientific studies are helping to clear the fog. In this study, around 3,700 Japanese-American men living in Hawaii were randomly tested on their cognitive performance. The men averaged around 78 years in age and their blood pressures had already been logged in detail years prior, as a part of previous studies.
After adjusting for biases like prior education and age, the men who performed the poorest on the test were those who had experienced high blood pressure in middle age, suggesting a direct connection between hypertension and cognitive decline later in life. More recent studies have helped to reaffirm this connection, suggesting that high blood pressure and cognitive decline go hand in hand.
Another way high blood pressure can affect your brain is through vascular dementia, a type of dementia caused by blood flow problems in the brain. Patients often experience the same cognitive symptoms as those who suffer from other types of dementia, including confusion and memory loss. Having high blood pressure directly increases your risk of developing vascular dementia because of the strain it puts on your brain’s blood vessels, making it difficult for the brain to get the oxygen it needs to function properly.
Fortunately, vascular dementia can be improved through hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), such as the type available at Aviv Clinics in central Florida. HBOT works by delivering oxygen directly to the brain in a pressurized environment. This allows the damaged blood vessels in your brain to heal, helping you regain your cognitive functions.
What can I do to prevent high blood pressure?
While medication is often the first thing people think of when it comes to treating their blood pressure, healthy lifestyle choices are really the best medicine. And while it’s always better if you can correct these problems sooner in life, you can still make a positive change to improve your hypertension if you’re an older adult.
The absolute best things you can do for your high blood pressure and brain health are to follow these 5 main steps.
- Eat a clean diet of whole foods
- Sleep well
- Engage your mind
- Reduce and manage your stress levels
Managing stress levels is especially important for blood pressure and brain decline because high levels of stress increase cortisol production in the body. Having elevated cortisol levels in your body raises blood pressure. And effects of cortisol on the brain can include brain fog, confusion, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, and even more cognitive problems.
Some things you can try to calm your body are soothing activities like yoga or meditation. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you stay grounded in the present moment, and scientific studies have proven its effectiveness in managing stress levels. Yoga is also an excellent choice because it combines the principles of mindfulness with exercise, a two-for-one benefit!
If neither of these activities is quite your speed, pick another relaxing activity. Just about anything will do: golfing, gardening, reading a book, or even playing a video game with your grandchildren. Having fun is the important part. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, your stress levels will naturally go down, and the pressure in your body will ease.
While it is a dangerous condition, especially later in life, it is possible to manage high blood pressure and brain health by making healthy choices in your life. It’s never too late to start!
The Aviv Medical Program uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy and a comprehensive treatment approach that combines cognitive and physical training, plus nutrition coaching, to optimize brain health. Based on over a decade of research and development, the intensive treatment protocol is customized to your needs, especially for those who have dealt with stroke and traumatic brain injury. The Aviv Clinics in central Florida is the only center in the United States to offer this program.