Can Quitting Smoking Decrease Dementia Risk?

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Smoking may impact dementia risk.

The general attitudes in America around smoking have changed over the years.

Throughout the 20th century, smoking was seen as something cool and harmless.

In the 21st century, fewer people hold this opinion.

According to a recent MedPage Today article titled “Cutting Back on Smoking No Help for Dementia Risk,” smoking is still prevalent.

Smoking may increase risk of dementia.
Those who quit smoking may reduce their risk of developing dementia.

To evaluate the impact of this habit on dementia, a recent team of researchers, including Dong Wook Shin, MD, DrPH, MBA, of Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Seoul, conducted a study.

Their research involved reviewing the information of 789,532 participants from the National Health Insurance Service database of Korea.

The study included primarily men aged 40 and older.

Nearly 95.8 percent of the participants in the study were men.

The average age was 52.

About 35 percent of the participants had smoked for at least thirty years.

Those who had smoked for at least 20 years were 80.2 percent.

Participants were given biennial health exams in 2009 and 2011.

All participants were current smokers during their first exam.

The health data of each individual was followed through 2018.

What were the findings of this study?

At the median follow-up of around 6.3 years, participant data showed 11,912 dementia events.

There were 1,889 cases of vascular dementia and 8,880 cases of Alzheimer’s.

According to the results, vascular dementia risk and overall dementia risk were lowered significantly by smoking cessation compared to those who continued smoking.

These results were more pronounced in those participants under age 65 than those 65 or older.

Men and women showed similar outcomes.

For those who reduced smoking by more than 50 percent per day, the study found an increase in dementia risk compared to those who smoked as usual.

Those who only reduced their smoking by 20 to 50 percent had similar outcomes to those who did not change their smoking habits.

Researchers also noted in the JAMA Network Open those who increased their smoking had a moderately greater risk of developing dementia.

Why might these be the observed results?

One thought made by the team is those who quit smoking may make additional behavioral changes to address comorbid health concerns.

This is known as the sick quitter phenomenon.

In this study, comorbidities were more prevalent in the reducer than the sustainer group.

Although it is a possible explanation, the research team believes the protective association between smoking cessation and dementia means this cannot be the sole explanation.

While simply reducing smoking did not show health benefits, it may be an essential step to quitting the habit.

If you (or a loved one) want to quit this habit to reduce the chances of developing dementia, it is essential to have social support to encourage this journey.

Reference: MedPage Today (Jan. 19, 2023) “Cutting Back on Smoking No Help for Dementia Risk”

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