New Study Finds Smoking Increases Alzheimer’s Risk

( – In a new study out of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, researchers have drawn a link between smoking and the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Such conditions are often associated with the natural brain shrinkage that comes with aging. However, the researchers’ study of brain scans, smoking history and genetic risk factors for 32,094 participants of European descent from the UK Biobank database showed an accelerated shrinkage in people who smoked, with worsening effects for every year the person smoked.

Smoking is well known for harming the lungs as in cases of asthma or emphysema. It has also been linked to heart disease as it increases the formation of plaque in blood vessels. However, it is only recently that researchers have begun to look into how smoking can affect the brain. The study found that deterioration in gray and white matter is more likely for smokers than for non-smokers.

It is not yet known if this is a direct consequence of smoking or if there is another element that is a factor for both developing a smoking habit and for the increased shrinkage of brain matter. The authors of the study concluded that having a preference for smoking may be attributed to genetic predisposition in many cases. They did find that those who had never smoked did not show the same accelerated brain shrinkage that those who smoked did, with those who had smoked the longest showing the most dire results.

Senior author of the study, Laura J. Bierut, MD, says that this atrophy of the brain is similar to the way the brain shrinks as people age, so people who smoke could be seen as having an “older brain” than those who don’t. A co-author of the study, Yoonhoo Chang commented that while once accrued, the damage cannot be undone, people can work to eliminate risk factors like smoking to help prevent the premature aging of their brains. Dr. Bierut added that there are also many toxins involved in smoking that can be dangerous, and that people who smoke have chronically low oxygen levels in their blood which also contributes to harm to the brain.

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