Brain

The ‘Silent’ Disease That Could Be Causing Your Memory Loss — And How to Prevent It

It's treatable with these tips.

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New research suggests memory loss is an early symptom of high blood pressure. Here, easy ways to lower your risk of blood pressure problems and eliminate brain blips.

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Hypertension has long been known as a “silent” disease, but new research shows that it does have one surprising early symptom: memory loss. “Prior research shows that high blood pressure is a key risk factor in developing dementia later in life,” says Natasha Bhuyan, M.D., a family physician in Phoenix. “These findings indicate that blood pressure plays a role in memory as early as age 50.” Indeed, adults with high blood pressure were four times more likely to develop early memory loss. Why? Blood pressure-related problems can lead to loss of blood flow to the brain, starving brain cells of the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly.

Prescription medications are the gold standard for high blood pressure, but the drugs aren’t without side effects, ranging from insomnia to dizziness. The good news: You can take steps to tackle hypertension and reduce brain blips today with these natural strategies.

Best sip: A cup of joe.

Coffee drinkers are nearly seven times less likely to have high blood pressure than those who skip the brew, according to scientists reporting in the journal Nature Medicine. Internal medicine physician Spencer Kroll, M.D., says the credit goes to coffee’s polyphenols, soluble fiber and potassium — all of which have heart-healthy benefits. Additionally, he adds, data suggests sipping 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day may relax arteries to lower blood pressure. Plus, Johns Hopkins University research indicates that the caffeine in about two cups of coffee activates norepinephrine to enhance long-term memory. Tip: Australian researchers found that too much caffeine can actually spike blood pressure, so limit yourself to five cups per day.

Best exercise: Walk with friends.

“Exercise lowers blood pressure effectively, and it doesn’t have to be ‘hard,’” says Donna Arnett, Ph.D., dean of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. What’s more, a daily stroll also kick-starts brain cell growth, cutting the risk of memory problems by 28 percent, say University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers. Arnett recommends walking briskly for 30 minutes five days a week — if you’re able to talk but too winded to sing, that’s the right pace. “Regular activity makes your heart stronger,” notes Dr. Kroll. “A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort, lowering blood pressure.” Bonus: Walking with a friend has been shown to lower blood pressure by as much as 12 points and cut your risk of memory loss in half.

Best food: Flaxseeds.

Flaxseeds are rich in alpha linoleic acid (ALA), lignans and fiber, which work together to relax arteries so blood flows more easily — enough to lower blood pressure by 15 points, according to a report published in the journal Hypertension. The ALA in flax also helps the brain form and cement neural pathways to improve memory. “ALA boosts the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” explains Alicia Galvin, R.D., resident dietitian for Sovereign Laboratories. “This helps protect brain cells from degenerating.” To get the benefits, she recommends incorporating 1 Tbs. of ground flaxseed into your diet daily, suggesting, “Add it to cooked oatmeal, cereal or smoothies or bake it into muffins and bread.”

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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