Men who value their thinking abilities have a good reason to kick the smoking habit. A recently published study suggests that male smokers may experience a more rapid cognitive decline than women who smoke.
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The study, which spanned more than a decade and was conducted by researchers at the University College London, collected data on nearly 5,100 men and more than 2,100 women ages 44-69.
The findings suggest an association between men who smoke and a more rapid cognitive decline, which Cleveland Clinic psychologist Scott Bea, PhD, says is defined as a decrease in memory function and executive function. This includes decision making, problem solving, and visual and spatial reasoning.
How smoking affects the brain
“In smokers, this most likely occurs because nicotine is affecting blood vessels and blood supply to the brain,” says Dr. Bea, who did not participate in the study. “Nicotine in cigarettes is an activating drug — it acts like a stimulant. People are dosing themselves every time they light up.”
The researchers note that further investigation is needed to explain why there was no association between smoking and cognitive decline in women. They say that it may be attributed to the greater quantity of tobacco smoked by men or that smoking clusters with other risk factors, such as alcohol consumption, differently in men and women.
Smoking as risk factor for dementia
The number of dementia cases around the world is expected to double in the next 20 years, and smoking is increasingly recognized as a risk factor. The study did have some good news: There were no adverse effects on cognitive health in former smokers who were smoke-free for at least 10 years.
“We find that people who continue to smoke as they age, from middle-age into old age, have much greater rates of dementia,” Dr. Bea says.
“If you value your brain and like what it does, then quit smoking.”