Blood pressure pill could slow down Alzheimer’s ‘by boosting circulation to the brain’ 

A high-blood pressure drug that costs just pennies could combat Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests.

A study found taking the hypertension medication Nilvadipine for six months boosts blood flow to the part of the brain that controls memory by a fifth. 

Nilvadipine boosts blood flow by blocking the mineral calcium from entering arteries, which causes the blood vessels to widen. 

Reduced blood flow to the brain is emerging as a key factor in dementia’s onset and progression. 

A high-blood pressure drug that costs just pennies could combat Alzheimer’s disease (stock)

The research was carried out by 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.

Nilvadipine managed to boost blood flow to the 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. 


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:

  • Difficulty remembering newly learned information
  • Disorientation
  • Mood and behavioral changes
  • Suspicion about family, friends and professional caregivers
  • More serious memory loss
  • Difficulty with speaking, swallowing and walking

Stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Mild Alzheimer’s (early-stage) – A person may be able to function independently but is having memory lapses
  • Moderate Alzheimer’s (middle-stage) – Typically the longest stage, the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, or have sudden behavioral changes
  • Severe Alzheimer’s disease (late-stage) – In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation and, eventually, control movement

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.

Dementia is a global health concern that is set to get worse as we continue to live for longer. 

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the disease, affecting 62 per cent of those diagnosed in the UK, Alzheimer’s Society statistics show. 

And in the US, 5.8million people are living with Alzheimer’s, which is set to rise to nearly 14million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  

High blood pressure is increasingly being blamed for skyrocketing rates of dementia, which is incurable.

Prolonged hypertension can causes blood vessels in the brain to become damaged and narrow, which raises the risk of them becoming blocked or bursting.

It blood cannot carry oxygen to part of the brain due to a blockage, some cells in the brain may die.

Overtime this may 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 took the medication 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 specific areas of their grey matter.

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.

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is involved in the formation of new memories, as well as regulating learning and emotions.   

Results – published in the journal Hypertension – further revealed other areas of the participants’ brains were unaffected by their new drug regimen.    

The participants made up a larger study of more than 500 Alzheimer’s patients who took Nilvadipine between 2013 and 2015.

In the larger project, the drug’s effect on blood flow through the brain 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 a few that uses MRI scanning 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,’ ProfessorClaassen 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 performance and quality of life will also indicate whether the drug could be a useful treatment.