Smoking Hurts The Brain Too

By: Dr. Pascale Michelon

Did you know that smoking is not only bad for your lungs but also for your brain?
A new study shows that smoking is linked to accelerated decline in memory and reasoning in people over 50.

The 10-year long study looked at the association between cognitive decline and cardiovascular risks. Participants were more than 8,000 adults (mean age of 66), whose global cognition, memory and executive functions (reasoning, inhibition, etc.) were assessed on 2 occasions: 4 years and 8 years after the beginning of the study. Cardiovascular risks such as stroke risk, weight, etc. were also assessed.

As expected, participants with the highest stroke risk or with high blood pressure were also the ones with the lowest cognitive scores. Smoking was also associated with lower memory, reasoning, and global performance. Surprisingly, smoking was the factor that affected cognition the most consistently.

This was not the first time that smoking was associated with impaired brain functions. Previous studies have also shown that current smokers are clearly at greater risks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Does quitting help? Yes. A 2010 extensive NIH review study suggests that even though former smokers show a greater yearly cognitive decline compared those who never smoked, they do not appear to be at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (in contrast to current smokers).

In sum, taking care of our cardiovascular health is essential for both our physical and mental good functioning. This includes not only not smoking but also a healthy diet, and regular physical exercise.

References: Dregan, A. et al (2012). Cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive decline in adults aged 50 and over: a population-based cohort study Age Ageing (2012) doi: 10.1093/ageing/afs16.

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