Smoking hinders brain power; quitting helps it

A lifetime of smoking takes a toll on the brain, hindering memory and the speed at which you think, a British study has found. But all is not lost for those hooked on nicotine: Quitting the habit leads to an improvement in brain power.

Researchers analyzed data from nearly 2,000 people -- all participants in a large British health study that has been following people since their birth in 1946 -- to evaluate the effects of smoking on their minds. The researchers had access to psychological tests done when the men and women were 15, 36, 43 and 53, as well as their complete health and smoking histories. Memory declined most in those who continued to smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day between ages 43 and 53. Speed of thinking slowed by age 43 in the smokers, especially in the men, but then remained fairly constant over the next decade.

Smokers also may be more prone to high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which could affect brain function.

The study was published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health.


-- Dianne Partie Lange

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