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Heart Drug Combos Might Also Lower Your Dementia Risk: Study

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Mar 13th 2020

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FRIDAY, March 13, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Certain combinations of cholesterol and blood pressure drugs may do more than help the heart -- they might also lower a person's risk of dementia, a new study finds.

The drugs in question include two common types of blood pressure medications -- ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) -- as well as cholesterol-lowering statins.

It's long been known that keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control is important for a healthy heart. But "this study tells us there might be certain combinations of drugs that have additional benefits for Alzheimer's and other dementias beyond the management of those targeted conditions," study co-author Douglas Barthold said in a University of Southern California news release.

Barthold is a research assistant professor in the department of pharmacy at the University of Washington in Seattle.

In the study, a team led by USC researcher Julie Zissimopoulos tracked 2007-2014 data from nearly 700,000 Medicare beneficiaries. The participants were ages 67 and older, and had used both a high blood pressure drug and a cholesterol-lowering statin drug for the two previous years. None had been diagnosed with dementia, and they had never taken any Alzheimer's disease-specific medications.

The use of the statins pravastatin and rosuvastatin, combined with ACE inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) for high blood pressure, was associated with a reduced risk for dementia, compared to other combinations of drugs.

One combination -- pravastatin or rosuvastatin in combination with ARBs -- was especially good at lowering the risk, with men benefiting even more than women.

For example, using a combination of ARBs and pravastatin was associated with a 21% lower risk of dementia diagnosis over the seven years of the study, compared to other combinations of drugs, according to the study.

Dementia affects about 7 million Americans and that number is expected to increase to 12 million over the next two decades.

"We don't currently have drugs that are proven to treat dementia, but even small delays in onset can dramatically reduce the burden on patients, caregivers, and the health system as a whole," Zissimopoulos said in the release. She directs the Aging and Cognition program at USC's Center for Health Policy and Economics. "Our research found dementia risk may be reduced with specific combinations of drug treatments for vascular health."

If these findings are replicated in future research, they might lead to specific combinations of statins and high blood pressure drugs being recommended to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, the researchers said.

Two experts in brain and heart health said the new findings make sense, given links between the two organs.

"Yet another study that says heart health equals brain health," said Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist and psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

She said that besides using meds to better your heart health, people interested in keeping their brain healthy should consider "eating a Mediterranean diet, doing aerobic exercise 30-45 minutes three to four days a week, maintaining healthy sleep habits and having community involvement."

Dr. Guy Mintz directs cardiovascular health at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. Reading over the findings, he said that "this choice of medications make sense because not only do ARBs reduce blood pressure, but they have an anti-inflammatory effect," as do statins -- and inflammation negatively affects blood vessel health in the brain.

"As we move into an era of precision medicine, the idea of targeted combination therapies for hypertension and cholesterol in patients over 67 years of age -- translating to better vascular health in the brain and leading to a reduction of brain dysfunction -- is exciting and warrants further research," Mintz said.

The study was published recently in the journal PLOS One.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on dementia.