You Know Smoking Is Bad For Your Body, But Did You Know It Also Rots Your Brain?

smoking cognitive function brain health memory

Everyone knows that smoking is basically the worst thing you can do to your body. It’s incredibly bad for your respiratory system (hello, gross black lung they showed us in elementary school), your mouth and esophagus, your skin, your teeth…the list goes on. And now researchers have found that smoking is also terrible for your brain.

Researchers at King’s College in the UK determined that smoking “rots” the brain by compromising memory, reasoning and learning abilities. In a study of over 8,800 people over 50 (performed over a period of years), there was a consistent link between lower scores on cognitive tests and smoking.

Researchers in the study, published in the journal Age And Ageing, also found links between cognitive decline and obesity and high blood pressure. One of the researchers, Dr. Alex Dregan, said:

Cognitive decline becomes more common with ageing and for an increasing number of people interferes with daily functioning and well-being.

It’s interesting to consider the idea that lifestyle choices have a bearing on our cognitive abilities, especially as we age. Remember how everyone used to laugh at Ozzy Osbourne when The Osbournes was on MTV, because he was obviously so out of it from many years of hard drug use? (Maybe that was just me and my friends in high school. Sorry, Ozzy.) People seemed to think that his obvious confusion was because his lifestyle had been so extreme. But that might not be the case. What I’m getting at is that it’s not just hardcore drug users that are hurting their brains with their lifestyle choices; everyday smokers could be contributing to the slow breakdown of memory and other functions. This study, and another one like it from a few years ago (that found that smoking cessation improves memory) seems to confirm a correlation.

The researchers who performed the study also want to stress the connection between lifestyle choices and cognitive function. Dr. Dregan also said:

We need to make people aware of the need to do some lifestyle changes because of the risk of cognitive decline.

He said the connections between this kind of cognitive decline (due to smoking or obesity) and conditions like dementia are not yet completely clear, but that it seems to raise someone’s risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Society of the UK commented on the findings of the study:

We all know smoking, a high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a high BMI [Body Mass Index] is bad for our heart. This research adds to the huge amount of evidence that also suggests they can be bad for our head too.

They continued:

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.

So, if you want to live a long, healthy life free of forgetfulness, evidence is pointing to putting down your cigarettes.

Photo: Shutterstock

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    • Heidi Lindborg

      Boy are you wrong. Correlation does not imply causation.
      Nicotine actually enhances brain function in the frontal cortex and mentally ill people use it to alleviate the symptoms of their illnesses. See: Tourettes, Parkinsons, Narcolepsy.

      If you want to write a scientific article, maybe you should do some research first.

      • Carrie Murphy

        Hi Heidi, I was actually just summing up the research presented by scientists in the journal Age and Ageing. My original source (the BBC) is linked in the first paragraph.

      • briseboy

        Although I originally accessed this article due to being conversant with research showing temporary increases in cognitive function due to artificial enhancement by nicotine – an analogue of a neurotransmitter, and have also long known that schizophrenics self-medicate with tobacco to avoid the unpleasantness of acute episodes, I find that general ad hominem (ad feminem?) attack comment across the internet is both extreme and distressingly common.

        I would suggest, Carrie, that for a future important news article, you explore the decrease in civility (not to mention exploring whether there are significant studies specifically including uncivil commentors) across the internet.

        There may be factors involving unrelieved social perception (population and/or cognitive stress induced by H. sapiens recent flocking to unrelieved urbanization) related to that incivility. I believe some have been studied.

        As you may know, research points to vascular problems including atherosclerosis (narrowing due to plaque) and arteriosclerosis (stiffening or hardening) as being involved with both smoking and with cognitive decline. Commentors should themselves at least scan reviewed literature before posting, in order to avoid egregious error associated with impulsive response.