Smoking can hurt memory

By Tom Nordlie • Published: October 23rd, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Smoking hurts your lungs. And there’s mounting evidence it hurts your brain, too.

Prior studies suggest tobacco use is a risk factor for dementia, diseases involving progressive loss of brain function.

It’s difficult to explore the potential link in elderly smokers because tobacco-related illness often kills them. So a study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine took another route. Researchers looked for evidence of mental decline in middle-aged smokers.

The study involved more than five-thousand volunteers with an average age of fifty-five. They received physical exams and answered questions about their health status. Then they were divided into four groups: those who’d never smoked, those who quit long ago, recent quitters and current smokers.

Several years into the study, researchers tested their memory, reasoning, vocabulary and verbal fluency. The data were then adjusted for variables such as gender, alcohol use and health history.

The results showed current smokers were about one-third more likely to perform poorly on memory tests, compared with nonsmokers.

Five years later, researchers tested the groups again. During those five years, current smokers had the same amount of memory decline as nonsmokers.

But there was a big drop in reasoning ability among current smokers and those who’d recently quit.

Interestingly, there was no correlation between the amount of tobacco someone smoked and the degree of mental impairment they experienced.

That’s a powerful argument against light smoking.

Perhaps as far as our brains are concerned, a little tobacco goes a long way… in the wrong direction.