June 17 (UPI) -- A drug that treats hypertension may bring hope in the fight to combat Alzheimer's disease, new research shows.
After patients with the disease took nilvadipine, blood flow to the hippocampus increased by 20 percent, according to a study published Monday in the journal Hypertension.
"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," said Jurgen Claassen, a researcher at Radbound University Medical Center and study lead author, in a news release. "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."
From 2013 to 2015, researchers examined the effects of nilvadipine on more 500 patients, at an average age of 73, diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. The majority of the group was white, and over half were women.
Nilvadipine is a calcium channel blocker prescribed to people with hypertension.
The researchers asked 44 patients to take either the drug or a placebo. Then they used MRI to measure blood flow to certain regions of their brains at the beginning of the study and after it's six month end.
They found blood flow to the hippocampus increased, but not in other parts of the brain.
Although the study results show that cerebral blood flow can be increased in Alzheimer's patients, the researchers aren't sure what impact it has on the disease.
While lowering blood pressure probably won't prevent dementia, researchers said, one study reported it may slightly reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
"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 progression of Alzheimer's disease, especially in earlier stages of disease," Claassen said.