POTASSIUM & Alzheimer's Disease

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A recent study in Archives of Neurology provides evidence that antihypertensives, particularly potassium-sparing diuretics, could reduce the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease (AD).

Commonly known as "water pills" diuretics flush excess water and sodium from the body while avoiding excretion of potassium. Interestingly, age, gender, blood pressure, education, and other variables that could affect the onset of AD had no bearing on the benefits conferred by the potassium-sparing diuretics.

The importance of maintaining sufficient amounts of potassium in systemic circulation to prevent AD was corroborated by another study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University, which found that low serum potassium levels in midlife increase the risk of high blood pressure and stroke--cardiovascular factors that also increase the risk of AD. Even though only small amounts (roughly 2 percent) of total body potassium is found in the serum, proper amounts are essential to normal physiology--for example, heart, kidney and adrenal functions.

The good news is that serum potassium can be readily modified by diet.

Since the very elderly (those above 80 years of age) are at the highest risk of hypertension and dementia, a Substudy of the Hypertension in the Very Elderly Trial (HYVET) seeks to determine the correlation between the treatment of hypertension and dementia and the decline in cognitive function. This study is in progress and is expected to shed light on the effect of an antihypertensive medication (indapamide) on cognitive function. This is the first study of its kind to examine the effect of antihypertensive medication on the reduction in dementia.

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