Taken individually, it's no secret that smoking and drinking too much alcohol are not good for health. And now, a new study shows that doing the two together could spell special trouble for your brain.
The findings, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, show that smokers who heavily drink have a faster cognitive decline than people who don't smoke and drink alcohol only moderately.
"Current advice is that smokers should stop or cut down, and people should avoid heavy alcohol drinking. Our study suggests that people should also be advised not to combine these two unhealthy behaviors -- particularly from mid-life onwards," study researcher Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson, of University College London, said in a statement.
For the study, researchers looked at the smoking and drinking habits, as well as cognitive functioning, of 4,635 men and 1,838 women between ages 45 and 69 who were part of the Whitehall II cohort study. They were followed over a 10-year period; their cognitive functioning was analyzed three times during that time.
Researchers found links between decreased cognitive functioning and people who smoked and drank heavily. Specifically, people who were heavy drinkers and cigarette smokers had a 36 percent faster rate of cognitive decline, compared with people who were just moderate drinkers and didn't smoke.
And "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 noted in the statement.
For the study, non-drinkers were defined as drinking no alcohol during the week, while moderate drinkers were defined as drinking "1-14 units a week for women or 1–21 units per week for men." Heavy drinkers were defined as drinking more than 14 units a week for women, and more than 21 units a week for men. The United Kingdom looks at alcohol content in beverages in terms of units; according to the UK's NHS, women shouldn't drink any more than two to three units of alcohol in a day, while men shouldn't drink more than three to four units of alcohol in a day. Hagger-Johnson explained that one unit of alcohol is about half of a standard drink in the United States.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers moderate drinking as one drink a day for women, and two drinks a day for men.
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You'll Be Less Anxious
Even though smokers may believe taking a long drag on a cigarette can help to calm nerves, a British study published earlier this year suggests that <em>quitting</em> can actually decrease anxiety more over the long-term. "People who achieve abstinence experience a <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2013/01/02/smoking-quit-anxiety.html">marked reduction in anxiety</a> whereas those who fail to quit experience a modest increase in the long term," researchers wrote in the British Journal of Psychiatry study, as reported by CBC News. Similarly, a 2010 study in the journal Addiction showed that <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/06/17/us-smoking-idUSTRE65G0CX20100617">perceived stress decreased</a> for people who quit smoking for a year after hospitalization for heart disease, Reuters reported.
Your Mouth Will Thank You
Quitting the habit could dramatically <a href="http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=661533">decrease your risk of dental problems</a> like cavities and gum disease, and even more dangerous conditions like oral cancer, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HealthDay reported that <a href="http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=661533">compared with former smokers</a>, smokers have a 1.5-times higher risk of developing at least three oral health conditions.
Your Sex Life Will Be Better
Here's a bedroom-related reason to quit smoking: studies have suggested a link between smoking and decreased sex drives for both men <em>and</em> women. Studies published in 2008 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that nicotine can affect even <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17971108">nonsmoking men's</a> and <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18331269">women's sexual arousal</a>. And if that's not enough to convince you, well, there's also <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/09/15/guys-quitting-smoking-makes-it-bigger-really/">this</a>.
You'll Save Your Skin
If you want your skin to be at its best, then you're better off quitting cigarettes. WebMD points out that smoking <a href="http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/ss/slideshow-ways-smoking-affects-looks">affects skin tone</a>, promotes sagginess and, of course, causes those wrinkles around the lip area. However, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery notes that just a month-and-a-half after <a href="http://www.surgery.org/consumers/plastic-surgery-news-briefs/skin-quit-smoking-1031403">quitting smoking</a>, your skin will already begin to look better.
You'll Have More Locks
If you love your hair, maybe it's time to put the cigarettes down. Research has linked smoking with an increased risk of male pattern baldness. BBC News reported in 2007 on a Archives of Dermatology study, showing even after taking into account other hair-loss risk factors like age and race, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/5413382.stm">heavy smoking</a> (at least 20 cigarettes daily) raised the risk of baldness. And a 2011 study showed that smoking, stress, drinking and genes were all<a href="http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/news/20110923/divorce-heavy-drinking-smoking-linked-to-hair-loss"> risk factors for baldness</a>, WebMD reported.
Your Mood Will Improve
Here's a pretty good benefit: Stopping smoking could <a href="http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2010/12/smoking">make you a happier person</a>, according to research from Brown University. Researchers there found that smokers were <a href="http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2010/12/smoking">never happier</a> than when they were quitting smoking, even if they went back to smoking afterward. According to a <a href="http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2010/12/smoking">news release</a>: <blockquote> The most illustrative — and somewhat tragic — subjects were the ones who only quit temporarily. Their moods were clearly brightest at the checkups when they were abstinent. After going back to smoking, their mood darkened, in some cases to higher levels of sadness than before.</blockquote>
You'll Have More Birthdays
Stopping smoking may <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/women-stop-smoking-live-10-years-longer_n_2011804.html">help women live a decade longer</a> than they would have if they had continued lighting up, according to a 2012 study in The Lancet. Researchers also found that the more the women smoked, the higher their risk of premature death, with even "light" smokers (those who smoked just one to nine cigarettes a day) having a doubled risk of death compared with non-smokers. "If women smoke like men, they die like men -- but, whether they are men or women, smokers who stop before reaching middle age will on average <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/l-soa102312.php">gain about an extra ten years of life</a>," study researcher Professor Sir Richard Peto, of the University of Oxford, said in a statement.
You'll Improve Your Pregnancy Chances
If you're trying to conceive, one of the best things you can do is to quit smoking, research shows. NBC News reported that women smokers have a 60 percent <a href="http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/16874634/ns/today-today_health/t/trying-conceive-quit-smoking/#.UOr-7onjlU4">higher chance of being infertile</a>, compared with nonsmokers. Smoking is also linked to more spontaneous miscarriages, according to NBC News.
You'll Enjoy Food More
If you <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=8427779#.UOsAFInjlU4">don't like bland food</a>, then don't smoke, research suggests. A small 2009 study of Greek soldiers shows an association between smoking and <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-08/bc-stf081809.php">"fewer and flatter" taste buds</a>, according to a statement on the research.
Your Colds Won't Be As Bad
Mild cold symptoms could take on a more serious form for smokers, according to a study from Yale University researchers. The findings, published in 2008 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, showed an <a href="http://news.yale.edu/2008/07/24/study-shows-why-cigarette-smoke-makes-flu-other-viral-infections-worse">overreaction of the immune systems</a> of cigarette smoke-exposed mice when exposed to a virus similar to the flu. "The anti-viral responses in the cigarette smoke exposed mice were not only not defective, but were hyperactive," study researcher Dr. Jack A. Elias, M.D., said in a statement. "These findings suggest that smokers do not get in trouble because they can't clear or<a href="http://news.yale.edu/2008/07/24/study-shows-why-cigarette-smoke-makes-flu-other-viral-infections-worse"> fight off the virus</a>; they get in trouble because they overreact to it."
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