A glimmer of hope shines in the devastating world of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), as this week a study published in the Archives of Neurology journal reveals that a class of blood pressure medications (Angiotensin Receptor Blockers, known as ARBs) may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Although the mechanism of Alzheimer’s is not fully understood, we do know that abnormal deposits of amyloid (a protein) occur early in brain as an early stage in the disease process. This new study, the Impact of Angiotensin Receptor Blockers on Alzheimer Disease Neuropathology in a Large Brain Autopsy Series, looked post-humously at the brains of 890 people who had suffered from AD and high blood pressure, and found that those patients who took ARBs (for their blood pressure) had significantly LESS of these amyloid deposits built up.
The hope is that if we can find ways to prevent the build up of these amyloid deposits, then this will halt the progression of Alzheimer’s both pathologically and clinically. Prior studies have shown some clinical evidence that patients on ARB’s for their blood pressure have a lower risk of developing AD, but this is the first study to show us the actual physical changes in the brain- very exciting news!
So, if you have a strong family history of Alzheimer’s disease and/or are experiencing progressive memory loss, should you ask your doctor to prescribe you an ARB today? Well… yes and no. I would NOT prescribe an ARB for a patient in this situation who had normal blood pressure. However, if she had newly diagnosed high blood pressure, I would certainly consider starting her on an ARB (rather than a diuretic or beta-blocker, our other first-line medications), and I would be open to a discussion about changing her to an ARB if she had hypertension and was already being treated with another class of medications. Of course, when choosing a medication, there is a range of different issues- from side effects and drug interactions to cost (and health insurance preferences), but potential “side”benefits such as this are absolutely part of the decision process.
BOTTOM LINE: Alzheimer’s research is critical to help us find a cure for this debilitating disease, and this new study offers encouragement that ARB’s may play a role in slowing the development of AD.