Study Finds Smoking Contributes to Brain Damage

In a study published in the November 2012 issue of the Oxford journal, Age and Ageing, researchers at the King’s College London describe the “rotting” effects smoking has on the brain. Smoking not only impacts the physical decline of your body; it damages your mind, including memory, learning and reasoning.

The study of more than 8,800 smokers over the age of 50 revealed high blood pressure excess weight and cognitive decline. The study tested the study participants at the beginning of the study, four years later and again eight years after the initiation of the study. The results revealed that not only did the smokers suffer an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, but cognitive decline was also significant – the greatest declines were observed in those with the greatest physical health risks.

The researchers pointed out that the significance of these findings suggest that although cognitive decline occurs with aging, the level of decline is determined by lifestyle choices.  Even in the absence of smoking, previous studies have linked being overweight, having high blood pressure and a high risk of heart disease to an increased risk of dementia. Smoking just adds to the distress on the brain and the body.

A spokesperson from the Alzheimer’s Society commented to the media, “One in three people over 65 will develop dementia but there are things people can do to reduce their risk. Eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and not smoking can all make a difference.”

Late in October, The Lancet published a study finding that smoking shortens the lifespan of women by more than a decade, but this impact can be reduced by dropping the habit before the age of 40. It seems quitting will not only improve cognition over your lifespan, it might also lengthen your life. Researchers said that quitting earlier in life is associated with the greatest outcomes, but smoking beyond the age of 40 results in a ten-fold increase in death due to a smoking-related cause.

November marked the 37th anniversary of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a one day event dedicated to quitting the habit. Although smoking rates have declined significantly in the last decade, rates have stalled due the increasing number of teens and young adults choosing to light up. The stall in the decline of smokers is happening globally, motivating activists in many countries to seek new ways to deter people from the dangerous habit.