Research Indicates that Smoking Ages the Brain Faster
It is widely known that smoking ages the skin, but now research has revealed that it also ages the brain. A University of Edinburgh study showed that smokers’ brains seem to age significantly faster than those of non-smokers.
Researchers analysed data on 244 men and 260 women who were born in 1936, and who took part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947. The data included their general medical information and results from MRI scans. Around half of the participants were former or current smokers, while the other half never smoked.
Their brain scans were used to assess the effects of smoking on the thickness of the brain’s cortex. The researchers found that there was more thinning in the brains of those who smoked – an occurrence which affects brain tasks such as planning, decision-making and problem-solving.
This indicates that not smoking helps to maintain the normal thickness of the cortex, helping to guard against age-related cognitive decline. However, there was also evidence that smokers’ brains experienced some benefit when they managed to quit the habit.
“It is important to know what is associated with brain health in older age and our study shows that the rate of smoking-related thinning to the brain is approximately twice the rate observed in previous, smaller studies,” says Professor Ian Deary, who led the research. “However, at the same time, our study also suggests that stopping smoking might allow the brain’s cortex to recover some of its thickness, though we need to conduct further studies to test this.”
This study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, is part of a larger project investigating brain ageing, funded by Age UK.
“We all know smoking is bad for our lungs and heart, but it’s important we also understand just how bad it is for our brain,” says Professor James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK. “While avoiding smoking is the best way to reduce the risk of brain decline, dementia and other cognitive diseases, this study gives new hope that quitting smoking, even in mid-life, can bring important benefits to the brain, as well as the rest of the body.”