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Smoking Rots The Brain, Study Says

As if lung cancer and deteriorating teeth weren't enough, here's another reason to avoid cigarettes: They could be rotting your brain.

According to the BBC, a new study of more than 8,800 people over age 50 found a correlation between smoking and damage to memory, learning and reasoning in the brain. While decreased brain function is a natural sign of aging, this data suggests that degradation is accelerated by smoking.

Researchers were attempting to identify a link between the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke and the condition of a person's brain. Data was collected from test subjects over the age of 50 who were then again tested at 4-year and 8-year follow-ups.

Originally published in the Oxford journal "Age and Ageing," the study also took an in-depth look at the effects of high blood pressure and weight on long-term brain health. But smoking produced perhaps the most dramatic results, as it was the only factor that seemed to be linked to global cognitive degredation.

From the study:

An important outcome of the present study was the consistent association observed between smoking and low global cognitive and specific memory and executive scores at 4-year and 8-year follow-ups.

However, one of the biggest conclusions of the tests was that future studies may need to focus more on cumulative risks than individual factors. While each factor -- smoking, high blood-pressure and weight -- had its own effect, the study showed that cumulative brain health is often determined by a number of different criteria. Looking at just one underlying cause of degradation is insufficient, the study notes.

The research also implies that these factors could lead to more complex problems, such as dementia. "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," Dr. Simon Ridley, from Alzheimer's Research U.K., told the BBC.

While this study addresses long-term effects of smoking, the inhalation of cigarette smoke often has some much more obvious negative side-effects. According to the National Institutes of Health, smoking causes about 443,000 deaths each year and is responsible for 90 percent of lung cancer in men and 80 percent of lung cancer in women.

Want to quit smoking? Call the toll-free national quit-line: 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848).