Can This Pill Stave Off Alzheimer’s While Lowering Blood Pressure?

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A blood pressure medication widely used in Europe and Japan might have potential to slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study appearing in Hypertension, a journal published by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.

The study, led by Jurgen Claassen of the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, observed 44 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s — a subgroup of more than 500 patients who participated in trials of the drug between 2013 and 2015.

Half of the 44 were given nilvadipine, a calcium channel blocker, and half received a placebo over a six-month period. The study found that patients who took the medication showed a 20% increase in blood flow to the hippocampus, the portion of the brain’s limbic system that helps new memories to form and influences emotions and learning processes.

High blood pressure can affect the brain by damaging its blood vessels and depriving it of the oxygen it needs to function properly. It is linked to onset of dementia because it’s one of the things that can lead to memory loss and brain shrinkage.

The conclusions of the latest research are at odds with an earlier study of nilvadipine, concluded in 2018, which found that the drug did nothing to slow cognitive decline in patients with mild to moderate Alzneimer’s. In commenting on that study, however, Costantino Iadecola of the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York suggested that the failure to find positive results might have been because the dose was too low, the treatment was begun too late in the progression of the disease, or the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s had not been confirmed.
The overall study did not show nilvadipine to have any “clinical benefit” — meaning it had no observable effects on the participants’ quality of life. However, the rate of memory decline in a subgroup of patients with mild dementia was shown to slow as an apparent result of the drug.

“In the future” said Professor Claassen in a statement, “we need to find out whether the improvement in blood flow, especially in the hippocampus, can be used as a supportive treatment to slow down [the] progression of Alzheimer’s, especially in earlier stages of disease.”

Finding a dependable treatment for the disease if considered a Holy Grail for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Almost 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s today, with Arizona, Alaska, and Nevada topping the list of states where Alzheimer’s is soaring.