Smoking speeds up brain ageing, but the brain recuperates if you give up, say scientists gathering at the ‘For Later Life’ conference organised by the Age UK on 18 November 2015.
Looking at MRI scans of 244 men and 260 women, and analysing the thickness of the brain layer called the cortex, they found smokers’ brain-cortices to be thick, meaning decline of cognitive function and ramped up brain ageing.
“We all know smoking is bad for our lungs and heart, but it’s important we also understand just how bad it is for our brain,” said Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research at Age UK. He added that a quickly ageing brain increases the risk of a smoker getting dementia. Through a survey done for the same study, the scientists also found that quitters showed some degree of recovery from brain ageing.
“While avoiding smoking is the best way to reduce the risk of brain decline, dementia and other cognitive diseases, this study gives new hope that quitting smoking, even in mid-life, can bring important benefits to the brain, as well as the rest of the body,” said Goodwin.
“Health destroying effects of the complex interactions of hundreds of chemicals in cigarettes are well established, and showing that it also affects the structure/layers of the brain is not a big surprise,” told Suresh Rattan, a biogerontologist at Aarhus University, Denmark. But according to him, the conclusion of using smoking as a single “marker” for brain ageing is “too simplistic.”
“We have actually no good and universal markers of rate of ageing. Lots of changes that happen with age or even with bad things like smoking can be adaptive changes by the body to counteract the bad effects,” said Rattan.