By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Millions of Americans take medication to lower blood pressure, and a new study shows those drugs could also be helping the brain. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the new research.

Doctors say high blood pressure in mid-life has been shown to be a major risk factor for dementia. This new research shows lowering it with medication may help guard against Alzheimer’s disease.

Peter Franklin has heart disease. So the 74-year-old is doing what he can to reduce his risk factors.

“I would have to be stupid not to be careful about what I’m eating, and what pills I’m taking,” Peter admits.

He takes a beta blocker to control his high blood pressure. Now, a new study shows the drug could also reduce his risk for dementia.

Researchers looked at nearly 800 men and found those who took blood pressure drugs may be less likely to have brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“When you have high blood pressure, there is an enormous force on the arteries. If we take a medication like a beta blocker, where that force on the arteries is decreased, then it decreases the possibility of damaging the arteries, which
is what can actually lead to dementia,” explains Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist.

Compared to other blood pressure drugs, the study found beta blockers were most effective in helping to reduce Alzheimer’s brain lesions and in keeping the brain from shrinking.

Peter is glad the drug he needs for his heart could also be keeping his brain healthy.

“If I’m getting that as an extra benefit, I certainly would like that,” he says.

Doctors say that while beta blockers might be able to reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s, they can also cause a number of serious side effects. As always, anyone with questions about medications should talk to their doctor.

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