Planning to quit smoking? There are now more reasons to break the habit. Apart from damaging the lungs and causing deadly diseases like cancer, heart attack and stroke, a new study has found that daily smokers are at an increased risk of brain shrinkage.

Scientists who analyzed the brain scans of participants from the UK Biobank with self-reported smoking habits found the brains of daily smokers were 0.4 cubic inches smaller than those who never smoked.

The participants took two surveys – once between 2006 to 2010 and the next between 2012 and 2013. They also underwent brain MRI examinations. Researchers found the participants who did not smoke had larger brain volumes when compared to smokers.

There was a 0.3 cubic inch dip in the size of grey matter and a 0.1 cubic inch dip in the white matter among smokers. The grey matter of the brain works with emotion and memory, while white matter is associated with information transfer.

The study also found that the frequency of smoking also had a strong association with brain shrinkage.

Those who quit the habit could reverse the decline in brain mass. Researchers suggest that a person could increase the grey matter volume by 0.005 cubic inches every year by not smoking.

"This is a very important study.The work is rigorously conducted and the result is important from a public health perspective," Dajiang Liu, who studies the genetics of smoking risk at the Penn State College of Medicine and was not involved in the study, told Live Science.

How smoking affects the brain?

Brain shrinkage or cerebral atrophy is associated with symptoms like muscle loss, blurred vision, disorientation, loss of coordination, muscle weakness and Alzheimer's disease.

According to estimates, 14% of Alzheimer's disease cases in the world could be attributed to smoking.

"The link between smoking and Alzheimer's may occur through the effects of smoking on brain morphometry given that deterioration in gray and white matter is a signature feature of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia," the researchers wrote.

"Cigarette smoking is associated with lower processing speed, poorer general cognitive ability, poorer decision-making, and increased impulsivity. Furthermore, it is associated with increased risk for cognitive decline and dementia, particularly in older individuals," they added.

Tips to quit smoking

  • Try nicotine replacement therapy
  • Find your triggers and avoid them
  • Chew something to resist the craving
  • Engage in physical activities to distract yourself
  • Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation or yoga
  • Remind yourself about the health benefits
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A new study has found that daily smokers are at an increased risk of brain shrinkage. Unsplash (CC0)