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Research involving participants in one of DPUK’s longest running health studies has revealed that changes in blood pressure in those as young as 36 are linked to signs of poorer brain health in later life. The findings show the particular value of long-term health records in our understanding of how degenerative brain disease begins.

A 3D graphic of red blood cells flowing through a blood vessel.

Blood pressure in midlife has previously been linked to a higher risk of dementia but the mechanism by which this happens, and the time when blood pressure is most important, remain to be fully understood.

Combining long-term records and advanced technology

To answer these questions, the research team conducted an advanced type of brain scanning in 502 individuals from one of DPUK’s longest studies – the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD). The researchers used advanced brain scanners, such as those now set up across the UK, to look for levels of a key Alzheimer’s protein, amyloid, in the brain. The scans also assessed the size of the brain – an indicator of brain health – and the presence of blood vessel damage in the brain. The researchers used these scans and together with the historic records to reveal more about the complex relationship between blood pressure and brain health.

Prof Jonathan Schott, Clinical Neurologist at the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, and a member of the DPUK Steering group, said
“This unique group of individuals, who have contributed to research their entire lives, has already shaped our understanding of the factors influencing health throughout life. The Insight 46 study has allowed us to reveal more about the complex relationship between blood pressure and brain health. The findings suggest that blood pressure even in our 30s could have a knock-on effect on brain health four decades later.

We now know that damage caused by high blood pressure is unlikely to be driven through the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein amyloid, but through changes in blood vessels and the brain’s architecture. The findings show that blood pressure monitoring and interventions aimed at maximising brain health later in life need to be targeted at least by early midlife. - Professor Johnathan Schott, Clinical Neurologist, UCL

This study - Insight 46 – was led by scientists at UCL and funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dementias Platform UK, Wellcome Trust, Brain Research UK, the Wolfson Foundation and the Weston Brain Institute. It allows for a unique perspective on the risk factors throughout life that impact brain health at the age of 70.

Read the full publication.