Long-term smoking ‘may cause’ brain shrinkage

12th February 2015

Long-term smoking ‘may cause’ brain shrinkage

Smoking has been linked with dementia and similar conditions

Tobacco smoke may damage brain tissue over time

“Smokers have thinner brain cortex and could have impaired thinking,” The Independent reports. MRI scans of long-term smokers show signs that the cerebral cortex – the grey matter of the brain – which plays a key role in thinking and memory, was thinner than expected.

The study looked at brain scans of more than 500 people aged 73 to see if there were any noticeable differences between smokers, ex-smokers and people who never smoked.

Smokers had the thinnest cortex on the MRI scans. However, despite some media reports, none of the participants had dementia or memory loss, and the researchers did not reveal any differences between the groups in terms of cognitive ability. The smoking group was limited in size to 36 participants (possibly because smokers are less likely to live until they are 73).

Thinning was also seen in ex-smokers compared to never smokers (these groups both had more than 200 participants). However as the study only took one measurement at one point in time, it cannot tell us either if this thinning in ex-smokers is due to smoking or if it partially recovers once a person quits smoking.

The authors acknowledge that this study doesn’t prove that smoking caused the cortex to thin as the measurement was only taken once. However, we already know that smoking is unhealthy and it is always a good idea to quit however long you have been smoking.

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