When considering smoking as a health risk, the natural pattern of thought is that the major danger it poses is to the lungs. While that is essentially true, smoking also poses a danger to another important organ: the brain. Research shows that the cognitive processes in the brain are affected by this habit.
Cognitive processes – what are these?
Cognitive processes are mental processes that include awareness, perception and ideas. It includes all aspects of thinking, creation of imagery, reasoning, judgement and memory. It basically represents the intellect.
What studies reveal
One British study showed that men who smoked showed faster cognitive decline than their non-smoking counterparts over a period of 10 years. The rate of decline was similar to that of 10 years of aging.
A Swedish study examined the role of cigarette smoking on cognitive performance in healthy, older adults who ranged in age from 35 to 80 years, The study indicated that smoking is associated with poorer cognitive performance in older adults and that smokers are disadvantaged on more challenging cognitive tasks – that those cognitive tasks that demand greater processing are most affected by smoking.
An American study done among teenagers tested their working memory – the form of memory used when keeping information in the mind and manipulating it. The study found that smoking adolescents had impairments in the accuracy of working memory performance.
How are these changes effected in the brain?
The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke binds to the haemoglobin molecules in red blood cells far stronger than oxygen can. This reduces the oxygen supply to the brain. This reduced oxygen supply also leads to mental fatigue and lack of concentration.
Eight seconds to possible addiction…
The nicotine in a cigarette reaches the brain within eight seconds of the first inhalation. A nicotine molecule is similar in shape to a neurotransmitter – it lodges onto the brain receptors and activates parts of the brain linked to feelings of reward and pleasure. And so the addiction starts.