High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol: Can They Cause Cognitive Problems?

Dr. Amir

High cholesterol and blood pressure aren’t a good combination. Not only do they increase the risk of heart disease, new research shows they may predispose you to memory problems and cognitive issues too.

Researchers did repeated cognitive testing on almost 5,000 middle-aged men and women over a ten year period. They also calculated a risk score for heart disease on the participants based on risk factors such as elevated cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking and other lifestyle issues.

When they compared the results of cognitive testing, which measured memory, ability to reason and speak fluently, to their heart disease risk score, they found participants with greater heart disease risk scores had a more rapid decline in cognitive function over course of the ten year study.

The conclusion? It’s doesn’t prove cause and effect, but this study showed a strong link between high cholesterol and blood pressure and memory and cognitive problems.

The link between high cholesterol and blood pressure and memory problems isn’t surprising. High cholesterol and blood pressure contribute to atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque on arterial walls. Plaque build-up can occur in blood vessels that supply the heart, leading to heart disease, as well as blood vessels in the brain, leading to cognitive issues and a higher risk of stroke. Thus, lowering your risk for heart disease also helps to prevent age-related declines in memory and cognitive function – and your risk of stroke.

Fortunately, there are ways to lower high cholesterol and blood pressure through medications when lifestyle changes aren’t enough. The key is to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly and know your risk factors for heart disease. If you’re at high risk because of family history, it’s even more important to control risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Start by eating a heart-healthy diet that’s high in fiber and contains “good” fats like the monounsaturated fats in nuts and olive oil and omega-3s in fatty fish. Replace simple carbohydrates with complex carbs such as those in whole grains. This is the basis for the Mediterranean diet, a diet that’s highly recommended for heart-health and longevity.

If you’re overweight, make a commitment to lose those excess pounds to reduce high cholesterol and blood pressure and prevent cognitive problems – and get at least thirty to forty minutes of moderate or high-intensity exercise three to four days per week.

The Bottom Line?

High cholesterol and blood pressure are risk factors for heart disease, and they may increase your risk for cognitive problems too. Don’t ignore your numbers – and make an effort to get them under control.

References:

Eurekalert.org. “High Cholesterol and Blood Pressure in Middle-Age Tied to Early Memory Problems”
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.