American Heart Association: Smoking Harms Brain Health

American Heart Association: Smoking Harms Brain Health

As if you needed another reason to avoid or quit smoking, new research from the American Heart Association (AHA) found evidence that smoking harms brain health.

We all know that smoking can lead to a whole host of health problems, including:

  • higher risk of heart disease
  • DNA damage
  • lung and respiratory damage
  • fertility and pregnancy issues
  • cancer
  • emphysema
  • dementia
  • so much more

In addition, tobacco use, whether we’re talking cigarettes or vaping, is the leading cause of death, illness and impoverishment in the world, according the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO also reveals tobacco use kills more than 8 million people annually around the world: 7 million due to direct use with another 1.2 million from secondhand smoke.

Now, according to this new AHA research, there is an association between smoking and cognitive decline.

Study Findings: Smoking Harms Brain Health

For this study, “Impact Of Cigarette Smoking And Its Interaction With Hypertension And Diabetes On Cognitive Function,” researchers “evaluated the association of a cigarette-smoking biomarker with cognitive function, and tested whether smoking acts synergistically with hypertension and diabetes to influence cognition.”

They did this by performing a cross-sectional analysis of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on study participants 60 years or older from 2011–2014. The 3,244 participants were given four cognitive tests:

  1. immediate word recall
  2. delayed word recall
  3. animal fluency test
  4. digit symbol substitution test

The analysis was “adjusted for demographics, socioeconomic factors, education, cardiovascular risk factors/disease, alcohol use, and depression,” and participants were tested for cotinine levels. Cotinine is a byproduct that forms after nicotine enters the body and is a biomarker of cigarette smoking and exposure.

What the researchers found was that even when accounting for participants with hypertension and diabetes, two other conditions known to affect cognition, there was evidence smoking harms brain health. Higher levels of cotinine in the blood were associated with worse performance in the digit symbol substitution test.

The authors of the study concluded:

Higher levels of a smoking biomarker were associated with worse performance on a multidomain cognitive test at the population level, regardless of hypertension or diabetes. These data demonstrate the detrimental impact of smoking on cognition and underscore the broad importance of promoting smoking cessation to preserve cognitive health.

How to Quit Smoking

If you or someone you know is a current smoker, there are some excellent mind-body techniques that can help with quitting. Since we now know smoking harms brain health, here are some ways to help prevent and or quit this damaging habit:

  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Guided imagery
  • Hypnosis
  • Tai chi

Of course, smoking isn’t the only thing that harms brain health. You can help protect cognition into old age by consuming more brain foods, taking advantage of natural nootropics and performing a brain detox.

Here are some more ways to improve memory and support cognitive health:

  • Never stop learning new things
  • Eat more anti-inflammatory foods
  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Prioritize healthy relationships
  • Lower stress levels


  • The American Heart Association published new research that found smoking harms brain health.
  • When examining more than 3,200 participants with a median age of 69 from 2011 to 2014, researchers found those with higher levels of cotinine, a biomarker of smoking and exposure, had worse scores on cognition tests.
  • The AHA strongly urges people to avoid or quit smoking, and researchers concluded the study findings “demonstrate the detrimental impact of smoking on cognition and underscore the broad importance of promoting smoking cessation to preserve cognitive health.”
  • You can use natural lifestyle habits to help quit smoking, such as yoga, exercise, meditation, tai chi and more.
  • Other ways to support and protect brain health include consuming more brain foods and natural nootropics, performing a brain detox, getting enough sleep, lowering stress, and more.

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