Blood Pressure and the Brain

High blood pressure is hard on the heart and blood vessels. It's also bad for the brain, reports the October 2009 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

A growing body of research indicates that high blood pressure, more formally known as hypertension, takes a toll on the aging brain. Although the details vary from study to study, the weight of the evidence suggests that high blood pressure increases the risk of mild cognitive impairment, vascular dementia, and even Alzheimer’s. Treating high blood pressure can reduce the risk of these feared consequences of aging.

Hypertension is also the leading cause of brain-damaging strokes. According to one study, hypertension increases a man’s risk of stroke by 220%. The good news is that treating hypertension is extremely protective—lowering the first number of your blood pressure reading (your systolic pressure) by 10 points reduces your risk of stroke by 44%.

The Harvard Men’s Health Watch recommends that for your head, as well as your heart, it's important to get your blood pressure down. Try these lifestyle modifications to lower your blood pressure:

Diet. Reduce your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day (or 1,500 mg if you have hypertension or are middle-aged or older). Reduce your intake of animal fat and processed foods. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and non- or low-fat dairy products.

Exercise. Moderate exercise can help control blood pressure.

Weight. Shedding 20 pounds can lower blood pressure 5 to 20 points.

Alcohol. One to two drinks a day is okay, but heavy drinking can boost blood pressure.

Stress. Winding down helps keep pressure down.

Read the full-length article: "Blood pressure and your brain"

The Harvard Men’s Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications (, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $28 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.