Lighting up a cigarette and having a few cocktails frequently go together, but according to a new study, this common combination may wreak havoc on a person’s mental skills. The researchers found that combined smoking and heavy drinking was associated with 36 percent faster decay in brain function, and the problem precipitates as the amount of alcohol consumed increases. People who evade this behavior may help protect their mental skills as they get older.
Current advice by the researchers is that smokers should stop or cut down smoking, and people should avoid heavy alcohol drinking. The study suggests that people should also be advised not to combine these two unhealthy behaviors — particularly from midlife onwards. Healthy behaviors in midlife may hinder cognitive [mental] decline into early old age.
The 10-year study involved nearly 6,500 adults whose age was between 45 to 69 years. The participants were questioned about their smoking habits as well as the amount of alcohol they consumed. Their brain function — including verbal and math reasoning, verbal memory as well as their short-term verbal fluency — was also assessed three times over the course of the study.
When the researchers looked at people who were heavy-drinking smokers, they found that for every 10 years that they aged, their brains aged the equipollent of 12 years. From a public health perspective, the increasing burden linked with cognitive [mental] aging could be reduced if lifestyle factors can be modified, and they also believe that people should not drink alcohol more heavily in the belief that alcohol is a protective factor against cognitive decline.
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