Smoking Your Brains Out?


As a former smoker myself (I quit more than 25 years ago), I fully appreciate the pleasures of smoking. However, after what I’ve seen in the 20+ years I’ve been a clinician, no matter how pleasurable it might seem there is simply no upside to smoking – or any other form of tobacco use for that matter.

Smoking is literally a poison delivery system. I’m not nagging (yes, I am) but I want to update you on some research I read that reported on effects of smoking you may find surprising. I found this study a little scary. Here’s what they found out about smoking and your brain.

Study of Smoking on the Brains of Middle Aged Men and Women

In the December 2008 issue of the American Journal of Public Health there is a study published about how smoking affected 1,964 middle aged (ages 43 to 70) people in a town in the Netherlands. (This link is to an abstract, the full study is only available for purchase.)

The subjects were tested to check their memory function, mental agility and flexibility. In the group 35% were “never-smokers”, 44% were ex-smokers, and 21% were current smokers. They were tested at the beginning of the study and then again 5 years later.

The researchers kicked out 60 people who had a history of strokes and then adjusted the results for the rest of the subjects taking into account the following risks: age; gender; education level; body-mass index; hypertension; cardiovascular disease; high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL – the “good” cholesterol; physical activity; and the intake of alcohol, energy, fat, beta carotene, and vitamin C.

The Results

At the beginning the smokers scored significantly lower than the never-smokers in speed, flexibility, and overall mental function. After 5 years, the smokers were 1.9 times worse for memory, 2.4 times worse for mental flexibility, and 1.7 times worse for overall mental function. The more the subjects smoked the greater their mental decline.

The researchers concluded that quitting smoking or, better yet, never starting might prevent mental decline in middle age.

The Take Home Message

Most of us are terrified of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia as we get older. And because we are living longer and longer, our risk is greater for suffering some mental decline sooner or later during our “golden years”. As with all risk, nothing is certain. Consider this:

  1. You know smoking is bad for you. What you may not know is that the minute you quit many of the cardiovascular risks (though not the lung disease or cancer risks) drop more than 90% within days of putting the cigarettes down.
  2. If the brain is to work properly it needs adequate circulation – which means oxygen-rich blood flowing to it. You don’t need to be a medical professional to realize that smoking isn’t going to do anything to help improve blood and oxygen flow anywhere in the body.
  3. You can sit passively by and tell yourself “what will be will be” and suffer the consequences OR you can push back against any forces you recognize that may threaten your mental agility and future independence.
  4. Humans are “use it or lose it” creatures. If you lose the cigarettes or tobacco and use your brain and your body to push your limits and capabilities you will stand a WAY better chance of avoiding mental decline and/or a catastrophic health event like a heart attack or stroke.

Final Thought

If you smoke – please quit – now!

Question – has my appeal had any impact on how you think about smoking or made you any more determined to quit?

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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