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The problem with smoking: men and memory loss

Posted in: Men's Health 09 Feb, 2012

The issue of smoking is one of great health debates we are faced with in modern society. However, it is fair to say that it definitely isn’t so laxly viewed as it used to be a number of years ago. Indeed, advertisements in the form of encouraging wartime posters celebrated the cigarette as somewhat of a luxury, as a treat to alleviate the strains caused by early twentieth century conflicts. Now, such a thing is unimaginable, and quite rightly, too. Yet, smoking adverts just keep on coming – but, this time, they come with a warning.

So often we are reminded of the trouble with smoking that there may be a tendency, particularly amongst fervent smokers, to take this information for granted; all too little taking heed of the important messages conveyed to us by those in the know. Considering the recent reports that smoking is not only obviously bad for our physical health, but our mental health too, it really is time we started listening to what the professionals have to say. Better late than never.

The study

It is a sad fact that there are a vast number of people, typically elderly, who are affected by brain deterioration, with diseases such as dementia. There are a variety of reasons - some unknown, some unpreventable - as to why some people suffer such devastating effects to their memory, but smoking really shouldn’t be one of them.

The suggestion that smoking could be a cause of mental decline (and this isn’t the first time it’s been associated with mental health) in middle-aged men comes from a recent report published in the medical journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study, by scientists at University College London, of over 5000 men and 2000 women (the average starting age for which was 56) was conducted over a ten year period, and took into account each individual’s smoking history, as well as being followed up after the study had ended.

Men who had smoked, and continued to do so during and after the study, displayed the greatest decline in mental ability, whilst those men who had quit smoking ten years before the study began were not all that far behind them. Strangely, women did not seem to show any notable decline, the reasons for which are largely unknown.

The science behind it – is it feasible?

The findings show that smoking can age our brains by ten years, as those men in their mid 50s, who had smoked consistently, more or less displayed the cognitive decline of non-smoking men a decade older. Imagine missing a whole ten years of potentially good quality life all because of that little, white stick.

The effects of smoking can trigger a number of vascular problems, including issues with the heart, the lungs and blood vessels which make up the circulatory system. When this isn’t functioning properly, the brain certainly isn’t going to function as well as it should due to the lack of blood and oxygen it receives.

On top of that, no dangerous, addictive substance can be good for the brain, so there is little wonder as to why mental issues have been brought into question in relation to smoking. Do we have any idea of the full extent to which Nicotine is damaging our ability to think, to remember? Hopefully, science will eventually be able to give us the answer. Whether by aid of smoking cessation treatment or pure willpower, surely giving up is worth it.


With a whole host of reasons as to why and how our brains are affected by particular triggers, it is often difficult to know what to take note of. It would appear that, sometimes, the media are all too capable of writing about the damages to our health, which we neither fully comprehend nor want to (perhaps, because we are scared by them). Yet, as mental disability and decline take a more serious place in the world of pressing news, it seems, very much so, that the study is telling us that it’s time to give quitting smoking another go.

For further information, see the NHS advice on how to stop smoking.

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