Smoking/drinking combo speeds mental impairment–study

New evidence suggests that smoking and excessive drinking isn’t only bad for the body but can also take a toll on the mind.

According to experts, brains of smokers who are inclined to drink heavily deteriorate faster than those who avoid cigarettes and drink in moderation.

The study found smoking and drinking more than the recommended weekly amount was linked to faster, more dramatic age-related mental decline.

Dr Gareth Hagger-Johnson, lead researcher at University College of London said, “From a public health perspective, the increasing burden associated with cognitive ageing could be reduced if lifestyle factors can be modified. Current advice is that smokers should stop or cut down and that people should avoid heavy alcohol drinking.

“Our study suggests that people should also be advised not to combine these two unhealthy behaviours – particularly from mid-life onwards. Healthy behaviours in mid-life may prevent cognitive decline into early old age.”

The 10-year study
In order to get some insight into whether smoking and heavy liquor consumption slows down brain, the researchers conducted a study. It involved 4,635 men and 1,838 women between ages 45 and 69 who were part of the Whitehall II cohort study. The subjects were tracked for a period of 10 years.

For the purpose of the study, participants were questioned about their smoking and drinking habits. In addition, their cognitive function (verbal and mathematical reasoning, short-term verbal memory and verbal fluency) was assessed every four months.

Non-drinkers were classified as those whose alcohol intake during the week was nil, moderate drinkers were defined as drinking “1-14 units a week for women or 1–21 units per week for men.” Heavy drinkers were categorized as those downing more than 14 units a week for women, and more than 21 units a week for men.

Revelations of the study
The study found a profound association between decreased cognitive functioning in people who smoked and drank heavily. It was noted that people indulging in heavy liquor consumption and cigarette smoking had a 36 percent faster rate of metal impairment as opposed to those who were just moderate drinkers and didn’t light up.

“Our research shows that cognitive decline was 35% faster in those people who reported both cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol above the recommended limits (14 units per week for women, 21 units per week for men). When we looked at people who were heavy-drinking smokers, we found that for every 10 years that they aged, their brains aged the equivalent of 12 years,” stated Gareth Hagger-Johnson.

The results are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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