Yet More Negative Effects Associated With Smoking

April 2, 2015

There’s quite a bit we know about smoking. Its effects are wide ranging and it damages organs in virtually every part of the body. Beyond being a primary cause of various cancers, causing COPD and sapping oxygen from the blood, smoking also has a profound effect on the brain. And while we have known smoking’s effect on the brain for a while, few studies have accurately measured what happens after one quits.

Let’s start with the latest research, from the journal Molecular Psychiatry, into smoking and how it affects the anatomy of the brain. Simply put, the damage is tremendous. Smoking can cause acceleration in the natural aging process of the brain. As we age, thinning of the brain’s cortex is rather normal. This is why we begin to forget and we’re not quite as “sharp” as we were in our twenties or thirties. For those who smoke however, this process can accelerate, manifesting in more severe cognitive impairment earlier in life. Essentially, certain parts of the brain begin to atrophy and the ultimate result can be dementia and Alzheimer’s among other conditions.

And recovery? We do know that after one quits smoking, many of the ill effects begin to reverse. To what degree our brains can recover is still of great interest. According to this study, it took the average participant 25 years (after quitting) to regain the cortical thickness lost due to cigarettes. This determination was made based on the observation that it takes about .9 years to reverse the effects of 1 pack year (one pack per day for 1 year). Heavier ex-smokers showed improvement but ultimately may never recover fully.

This study illustrates that 1) it is never to late to quit smoking and 2) the amount we smoke is directly correlated to the degree of damage we cause our own brains. This is important to note because most smokers do not quit on the first or even fifth try. However, every time we try, we’re doing ourselves a favor.