Smoking doesn't just age your lungs, it damages your BRAIN, too
Test on nearly 9,000 people over 50 have shown lifestyles could damage the mind as well as the bodySmoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a high BMI all worsen the risk
11:28 GMT, 26 November 2012
Tests on 8,800 people over 50 have showed cigarettes can damage memory
The effects of smoking on the skin are well documented with those keen to stay looking young urged to stub out the cigarettes.
But a new study has found that smoking could also age the brain.
Tests on 8,800 people over 50 have showed smoking can damage memory, learning and reading skills making people more vulnerable to dementia.
Scientists from Kings College London, who carried out the research, also found high blood pressure and being overweight also seemed to affect the brain, but to a lesser extent.
They said that people needed to be aware that lifestyles could damage the mind as well as the body.
The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (Elsa) carried out tests of memory, planning and overall mental ability on volunteers after four and eight years.
The study showed that smoking consistently reduced all three performance measures after four years.
High blood pressure and high risk of stroke were also associated with lower scores for memory and overall mental ability after eight years.
Being overweight was also linked to poor memory.
The findings, published in the journal Age and Ageing, indicate that future trials should focus on combinations of risk factors rather than individual causes of mental decline, say the researchers.
Lead scientist Dr Alex Dregan, from King's College London, said: 'Cognitive decline becomes more common with ageing and for an increasing number of people interferes with daily functioning and well-being.
'Some older people can become forgetful, have trouble remembering common words or have problems organising daily tasks more than others.
'We have identified a number of risk factors which could be associated with accelerated cognitive decline, all of which, could be modifiable.
'This offers valuable knowledge for future prevention and treatment interventions.'
The results indicate that high blood pressure has a gradual effect on the brain over a long period, according to the scientists.
'This could explain why short-term trials of blood pressure lowering drugs being used to treat mental decline had failed to show a clear benefit.
Dr Dregan added: 'Our research suggests that the most promising approach to delaying or preventing early ageing of the brain is one that acknowledges the multi-causality of cognitive decline.'
Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a high BMI all worsen the risk of dementia
Jessica Smith, from the Alzheimer's Society, said: 'We all know smoking, a high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and a high BMI (body mass index) is bad for our heart.
'This research adds to the huge amount of evidence that also suggests they can be bad for our head too.
'One in three people over 65 will develop dementia but there are things people can do to reduce their risk.
'Eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and not smoking can all make a difference.'
Dr Simon Ridley, from the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'Research has repeatedly linked smoking and high blood pressure to a greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and this study adds further weight to that evidence.
'Cognitive decline as we age can develop into dementia, and unravelling the factors that are linked to this decline could be crucial for finding ways to prevent the condition.'