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Smoking and Heavy Drinking May Hasten Decline in Brain Function: Study

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People who are both smokers and heavy drinkers have a faster decline in brain function, compared with those who don’t smoke and who drink moderately, a new study suggests. Smoking and heavy drinking is associated with a 36 percent quicker decline in cognitive function.

The 10-year study of almost 6,500 adults ages 45 to 69 found mental decline accelerates the more alcohol a person consumes, according to HealthDay. The study considered heavy drinking to be more than 14 drinks a week for women, and 21 for men.

“Current advice is that smokers should stop or cut down, and people should avoid heavy alcohol drinking,” lead researcher Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson of University College London said in a news release. “Our study suggests that people should also be advised not to combine these two unhealthy behaviors — particularly from midlife onwards. Healthy behaviors in midlife may prevent cognitive [mental] decline into early old age.”

The researchers assessed participants’ mental function, including verbal and math reasoning, short-term verbal memory and verbal fluency, three times during the study.

“When we looked at people who were heavy-drinking smokers, we found that for every 10 years that they aged, their brains aged the equivalent of 12 years,” Hagger-Johnson said. “From a public health perspective, the increasing burden associated with cognitive [mental] aging could be reduced if lifestyle factors can be modified, and we believe that people should not drink alcohol more heavily in the belief that alcohol is a protective factor against cognitive decline.”

The findings appear in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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