A high-blood pressure drug that costs just pennies could reverse Alzheimer's disease, research suggests.
A study found patients who took the hypertension-medication Nilvadipine for six months had a 20 per cent increase in blood flow through the part of their brains that control memory.
Nilvadipine increases cerebral blood flow by blocking calcium from entering arteries, which causes them to widen.
This may allow more oxygen to reach and 'nourish' the areas of the brain that regulate memory and learning.
Although early days, researchers believe Nilvadipine could reverse the signs of Alzheimer's in certain regions of a patient's brain.
However, it is unclear whether this would lead to fewer dementia symptoms, which are incurable under existing treatments.
A high-blood pressure drug that costs just pennies could reverse Alzheimer's disease (stock)
The research was carried out at Radboud University in the Netherlands and was led by Professor Jurgen Claassen, principal investigator at the Donders Center of Medical Neurosciences.
'Even though no medical treatment is without risk, getting treatment for high blood pressure could be important to maintain brain health in patients with Alzheimer's disease,' Professor Claassen said.
Importantly, Nilvadipine boosted blood flow to a brain's 'learning centre' without diverting it away from other areas of the vital organ.
'This high blood pressure treatment holds promise as it doesn't appear to decrease blood flow to the brain, which could cause more harm than benefit,' Professor Claassen said.
Dementia is a global health concern that is set to get worse as we continue to live for longer.
The condition affects 850,000 people in the UK, of which 62 per cent have Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer's Society.
And in the US, 5.8million people are living with Alzheimer's, which is set to rise to nearly 14million by 2050, Alzheimer's Association statistics show.
High blood pressure is increasingly being blamed for skyrocketing rates of dementia.
Prolonged hypertension can cause blood vessels in the brain to become damaged and narrow, which raises the risk of them being blocked or bursting.
If blood cannot then carry oxygen to parts of the brain, some of its cells may die.
HOW TO DETECT ALZHEIMER'S
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.
It is the cause of 60 percent to 70 percent of cases of dementia.
The majority of people with Alzheimer's are age 65 and older.
More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.
It is unknown what causes Alzheimer's. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer's.
Signs and symptoms:
Stages of Alzheimer's:
There is no known cure for Alzheimer's, but experts suggest physical exercise, social interaction and adding brain boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slowdown the onset of symptoms.
Overtime this could affect a person's memory, thinking or language skills.
To uncover the effects of Nilvadipine on dementia, the researchers analysed 44 people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's.
Half of the participants, who had an average age of 72, took Nilvadipine for six months, while the remainder were given a placebo.
Neither the patients nor the researchers knew who was taking what.
At the start of the experiment, all the participants underwent an MRI scan that measured blood flow to their hippocampus.
The is an area of the brain that is involved in the formation of new memories, as well as regulating learning and emotions.
Six months later, a second MRI revealed those who had been taking Nilvadipine had a 20 per cent increase in blood flow to their hippocampus compared to those on the sugar pill.
These participants were part of a larger study of more than 500 Alzheimer's patients who were given Nilvadipine between 2013 and 2015.
In the larger project, the drug's effect on cerebral blood flow was not measured.
Overall, Nilvadipine was not found to have any 'clinical benefit', which describes how a medication eases symptoms and improves a patient's quality of life.
However, a subgroup of patients with only mild symptoms of dementia did experience a slower decline in memory.
The researchers stress their study is one of just a few that uses MRI scans to uncover the effects of a dementia treatment on cerebral blood flow. Additional research is therefore required, they add.
The small number of participants, who were of a similar race and ethnicity, also means the results may not apply to other populations.
'In the future, we need to find out whether the improvement in blood flow, especially in the hippocampus, can be used as a supportive treatment to slow down [the] progression of Alzheimer's, especially in earlier stages of disease,' Professor Claassen said.
A British trial is already looking at whether the hypertension-drug losartan, which first became available in 1995, can slow down Alzheimer's progression.
Experts will use brain imaging to measure whether losartan reduces the rate the brain shrinks, which commonly occurs in Alzheimer's.
Standard questionnaires on memory and quality of life will also indicate whether the drug could has 'clinical benefits'.