Beta Blockers May Protect the Brain

Dementia-like brain changes less common in elderly men who took beta blockers

(RxWiki News) High blood pressure has been linked to higher risk of dementia. Using certain high blood pressure drugs may protect the brain from damage.

A recent study found that elderly men who took beta blockers to control their blood pressure had fewer signs of dementia-related changes in the brain.

They had fewer damaged areas, fewer Alzheimer’s-like plaques and tangles and less brain shrinking. Using other types of blood pressure drugs protected the brain some but not as much as beta blockers.

"Ask a doctor which blood pressure Rx is right for you."

The study, led by Lon White, MD, of the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute in Honolulu, will be presented at an upcoming conference. In the study, they enrolled Japanese-American men who were over age 71. A total of 774 men were in the study, and 610 had high blood pressure or used at least one medication to control blood pressure.

Of the 350 men who had used a blood pressure medication,  15 percent got only a beta blocker. Eighteen percent got a beta blocker and at least one other type of blood pressure drug, and the other 67 percent used other types of blood pressure meds.

After the men had died, the researchers looked at their brains. They looked for infarcts, which are small damaged areas thought to be caused by minor strokes. They also looked for plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease and for signs of brain shrinkage.

All of these brain changes have been linked to dementia.

The researchers found that people using blood pressure medications of any type had fewer infarcts, Alzheimer’s lesions and brain shrinking.

However, the men with the fewest signs of brain damage were those that used beta blockers only.

The authors concluded that fewer dementia-like brain changes were seen in elderly men who used beta blockers to control blood pressure.

Beta blockers lower blood pressure but they are also used for other heart conditions – like angina, glaucoma and anxiety. Some beta blockers are: Inderal (propranolol), Lopressor (metoprolol) and Sectral (acebutolol). It is also available in generic forms.

However, the study did not report any measures of cognitive skill. It is not clear from this study whether or not the lower level of brain changes were associated with preserved mental skills.  It is also not clear that the men with more dementia-like brain changes actually had dementia.

This study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting March 16 to 23 in San Diego. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Because this study will be presented at conference, it may not have had the chance to be reviewed by other experts in the field.

Review Date: 
January 3, 2013