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Blood pressure pill has potential to slow down Alzheimer’s disease   

A cheap blood pressure pill could slow down Alzheimer's disease by improving flow of blood to parts of the brain linked to memory, research suggests.

Dutch research found that those given the pills for six months saw a 20 per cent increase in circulation of blood to the hippocampus.

The drug, called Nilvadipine, is among a class of calcium channel blockers, costing less than 50 pence a day, which are commonly prescribed to reduce the risk of high blood pressure.

Scientists said the findings suggest that the decrease in blood flow in patients with Alzheimer’s disease could be reversed.

But they said it was too early to say if this could slow down progression of disease.

The study by Radboud University Medical Centre in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, involved 44 participants, half of which were given nilvadipine with half given a placebo for six months.

At the study's start and after six months, researchers measured blood flow to specific regions of the brain using a unique magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique.

Study lead author Professor Jurgen Claassen, of Radboud University Medical Centre in Holland, said: "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.

"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."

Researchers said sample sizes were too small and follow-up time too short to reliably study the effects of this cerebral blood flow increase on structural brain measures and cognitive measures.

A larger study involving more than 500 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease did not show the drug had an impact on the condition. However, those with mild symptoms of disease did have a slower decline in memory.

High blood pressure is already a known risk factor for dementia.

The condition affects 850,000 people in the UK, of which around six in ten have Alzheimer's disease.

Dr Laura Phipps, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We know high blood pressure is a risk factor for developing dementia but it’s unclear whether blood pressure-lowering drugs could improve memory and thinking in people with Alzheimer’s.

“There is strong evidence that there are things we can do to keep our brain healthy as we age. This includes keeping our blood pressure and cholesterol in check as well as not smoking, only drinking within the recommended limits, eating a balanced diet, and staying mentally and physically active.”

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