Garden City Telegram

High blood pressure and your brain: not a good pairing

Hyperactive. Hyperglycemia. Hyperventilation. You know "hyper" is a sign that a condition can cause you distress or chronic illness. Well, add high blood pressure -- and prehypertension -- to that list, and not just for the damage they can do to your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke, as well as under-the-radar brain bleeds and ministrokes. It turns out that even if you only have elevated blood pressure for a short while and are middle aged, not elderly, it damages your brain and reduces your cognitive powers. 

An important new study out of Brazil followed more than 7,000 participants for up to six years and found that having prehypertension - no matter how long it lasts - damages what's called fluency, which indicates cognitive decline. The study also found full-blown high blood pressure for any length of time before age 55 flat-out diminishes your ability to remember things. Having high blood pressure for any length of time over the age of 55 reduces your memory and your overall cognitive powers. 

Even six months of slightly elevated pressure - above 130 over 90 - when you are in early middle age (and we bet when you are younger than that too!) can damage your mind. And there is solid indication that a reading of over 120 and/or over 80 - prehypertension - is also profoundly risky. 

These findings, published in the journal Hypertension, make it crystal clear that it's vital to maintain a healthy BP throughout your lifespan. (For the typical person, the ideal blood pressure for avoiding chronic disease, dementia, strokes and heart attacks is 115/75 - but check with your doc to see what's ideal for you.) But that's something that eludes many of you. Almost 108 million Americans have high blood pressure, with a blood pressure reading of 130/80mmHg or higher or are taking medication for the condition. But only 27 million have their blood pressure under control. That means at least 81 million folks are risking their ability to think and remember. 

Another study looked at the prevalence of prediabetes in the U.S. and found that more than 28 percent of folks have the condition. Their readings are a systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 and diastolic blood pressure greater than 90mmHg or a systolic BP of 140 or higher and a diastolic blood pressure of 80 to 89.

This is a big deal - you want to save your brain anyway you can. Fortunately, getting your blood pressure under control simply requires lifestyle changes and taking meds (over 150 are approved). So what can you do to prevent prehypertension or blood pressure or to help get 'em under control, if you do develop either?

-  Be aware of the risk factors: excess weight, inactivity, chronic insomnia, alcohol dependence, a genetic predisposition, smoking and diabetes.

-  Aim to get 300 minutes of exercise and two strength-building workouts of 20 to 30 minutes a week. 

-  Enjoy a plant-based diet that eliminates ultraprocessed foods and red and processed meats. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found eating a sugary diet boosted systolic pressure by 4mmHg. Opt for foods rich in potassium (bananas), fiber (all veggies and fruit), and protein (legumes, 100 percent whole grains and lean fish and chicken). Reduce or eliminate salt intake if your doctor advises. The DASH Trial showed that a diet high in fruit, vegetable and low-fat dairy could reduce the upper or systolic blood pressure by 5.3mmHg and the lower or diastolic by 3.0mmHg.   

-  Don't smoke/vape (anything) or drink excess alcohol. 

-  Lose at least 5 to 10 pounds if you're overweight or obese.

-  Cultivate great sleep habits - seven to eight hours nightly in a dark, cool, quiet room.

-  Have your pressure checked regularly on both arms! A new study published in Hypertension says that if there's more than 10mg separating the systolic readings on your arms you are at risk for cardiovascular problems. Lifestyle and medical treatment for high blood pressure should be considered - even if one reading is in a healthy range!

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit 

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.