Smoking may increase your risk for dementia and cognitive decline

In a new study, researchers found that cigarette smoking is linked to increased lesions in the brain’s white matter, called white matter hyperintensities.

White matter hyperintensities, detected by MRI scan, are linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

These findings may help explain the link between smoking and increased rates of dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.

The research was conducted by scientists from the Uniformed Services University (USU), Emory University and the University of Vermont.

In June 2019, the Surgeons General of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the United States released an open letter stating that tobacco use is a threat to the health and fitness of U.S. military forces and compromises readiness.

This burden also extends to care provided by the Veterans Health Administration, which spends more than $2.5 billion annually on smoking-related care.

In response, the team examined the association between cigarette smoking and brain structure.

Cigarette smoking is linked to increased risk for myriad health consequences including increased risk for neuropsychiatric conditions, but research on the link between smoking and brain structure is limited.

Their study was the largest of its kind, including MRI brain scans from more than 17,000 individuals from the UK Biobank, a large cohort of volunteers from across the United Kingdom.

The team found that smoking was associated with smaller total gray and white matter volume, increased white matter lesions, and variation in specific gray matter regions and white matter tracts.

By controlling for important variables that often co-occur with smoking, such as alcohol use, this study identified distinct associations between smoking and brain structure, highlighting potential mechanisms of risk for common neuropsychiatric consequences of smoking such as depression and dementia.

The team says cigarette smoking is known to elevate the risk for neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression and dementia.

The current study shows that smoking is associated with multiple aspects of brain structure, in particular with increased white matter lesions.

White matter lesions are linked to many of the same neuropsychiatric diseases as smoking

These findings suggest a mechanism that links smoking to increased risk for dementia, depression, and other brain diseases.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Joshua Gray, an assistant professor of Medical and Clinical Psychology and Neuroscience at USU.

The study is published in Neuropsychopharmacology.

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