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Science says smoking thins the 'thinking' part of your brain

Photo: Scott Barbour/ Getty Images.

Have ever had a cigarette break at work to clear your head? Well, you may be doing just the opposite.

New research shows that smoking cigarette thins the cortex of the brain, used for decision making, problem solving, control of purposeful behaviours, consciousness, and emotions.

Studying the MRI scans of 244 men and 260 women with an average age of 73, with half of the participants as former or current smokers, scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Montreal, found that “smokers had a generally thinner cortex than those who had never smoked”… with “many of the most significant regions of associations were in pre-frontal areas.”

“Given the known breakdown in functional connectivity of the default mode network in Alzheimer’s disease, these observations accord with reported associations between smoking and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” the study reads.

The study also hints that the cortex might regain some thickness once smokers quit, but that this was not seen in all regions of the brain.

“Smokers need to be informed that cigarettes are associated with accelerated cortical thinning, a biomarker of cognitive aging. Importantly, cortical thinning can persist for many years after smoking cessation. The potential to at least partially recover from smoking-related thinning might serve as a strong motivational argument to encourage smoking cessation.”

Here are some of the brain images of those you have never smoked versus those who have.

(a) Areas in which those that never smoked have a thicker cortex than current smokers. (b) Areas in which ex-smokers have a thicker cortex than current smokers. (c) Areas in which those that never smoked have a thicker cortex than ex-smokers. (d) Mean cortical thickness ±1s.e.m. of current, ex- and those that never smoked. Image: Molecular Psychiatry.

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