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Smoking impairs women’s mental function–study


First published: March 17, 2010

Source: The Med Guru

A novel study published in the journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that women given to long term smoking may suffer from a decline in mental functioning, but the same pattern was not evident in their male counter-parts.

On the other hand, moderate alcohol abuse in both the sexes did not exhibit any impairment in the brain power.

Kristin Caspers, a researcher at the department of psychiatry at the University of Iowa and the lead author of the study stated, “I expected smoking to show similar effects in men and women.

“Both the men and women in our study had similar patterns of smoking. But it is possible that (the hormone) oestrogen makes women more sensitive to the effects of nicotine.”

Smoking and drinking habits of 287 people assessed
Caspers and her colleagues assessed the smoking and drinking habits of 118 men and 169 women with an average age of 43 years. They then evaluated their cognitive abilities through memory and mental function tasks.

Alcohol abuse was classified when people exhibited a single symptom of excessive drinking such as driving under the influence of liquor, or failing to meet work deadlines and education tasks.

Alcohol dependence was a more serious condition, manifested by features such as withdrawal symptoms.

Approximately, 45 percent of the men and 37 percent women reported a lifetime alcohol abuse while13 percent men and four percent women admitted to a history of alcohol dependence.

Additionally, a quarter of the women participants and 18 percent of men had a history of tobacco dependence.

Findings of the study
The researchers found that the mental functioning of both sexes given to alcohol abuse in the past and those without a previous drinking problem was similar.

However, women who confessed to smoking 20 or more cigarettes daily were outperformed by non smokers in cognitive skills of executive functioning that include the ability to reason, plan and organize.

“But an acute (immediate) effect of smoking on mental functions could not be entirely ruled out since most of the women who reported smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day were also current smokers,” Caspers said.

Limitations of the study
The researchers concede that the reasons for disparity in the mental functioning of male and female smokers were ambiguous.

According to the researchers, most of the study participants were only moderate drinkers but the effect of alcohol abuse on memory decline and other cognitive capabilities may not hold true for those with a history of alcohol dependence.

Vivek Benegal, associate professor at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore declared, “These findings are comparative statistics. The reality is that there are other significant physical as well as social costs from smoking and alcohol —- for both men and women. If you don’t get kicked in the brain, you get kicked elsewhere.”

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