New research is claiming that some antihypertensives, specifically angiotensin receptor blockers can lead to the reduction in the incidence and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The study published in the BMJ looked at information on 819,491 predominantly males (98%) aged 65 or more with cardiovascular disease taken from the US Veterans health system database covering 2002-2006. Dementia rates were studied in 11,500 patients on ARBs – AstraZeneca’s Atacand (candesartan), Sanofi-Aventis/Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Avapro (irbesartan), Merck & Co’s Cozaar (losartan) and Novartis’ Diovan (valsartan) – compared with over 91,000 on AstraZeneca’s ACE inhibitor Zestril (lisinopril) and more than 696,000 on other cardiovascular drugs.

Data from the study showed that patients on ARBs were up to 24% less likely to develop dementia than those on the other drugs. The findings also suggested that patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were 50% less likely to be admitted to a nursing home and had a 17% reduced risk of death if they were taking ‘sartans’, compared with other cardiovascular drugs. Also when ARBs were taken in combination with ACE inhibitors, the risk was even further reduced., researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine noted.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Colleen Maxwell and David Hogan from the University of Calgary, noted that “the public health implications of finding an effective way of preventing dementia are immense”. However they noted that “further work is needed to verify the usefulness of antihypertensives in general,” and ARBs in particular.

The data has gone down well with charities and Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the UK’s Alzheimer's Society, noted that “we have known for a while that it is important to control blood pressure from mid-life to reduce the risk of developing dementia”. She went on to say that “the prospect of using already existing drugs to help in the fight against dementia is attractive” but “more research is needed to weigh up the benefits of this type of treatment as a protective tool” .