AlzU Blog

Quick Alzheimer's Prevention Pearl: Smoking Was Found to Increase the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

AD Wisdom Pearl #6

There are several modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).  Modifiable risk factors are controllable conditions/behaviors that can be altered to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease during the preclinical (before symptoms) stage. Examples include reducing excess body fat, maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels and more. But perhaps one of the most significant modifiable risk factors, one can change, is smoking. In fact, a recent report from the World Health Organization said that smokers have a 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers, and that 14% of Alzheimer’s cases might be attributed to smoking. 

A panel of researchers conducted a rigorous review of several cohort studies on smoking and AD risks, according to the National Library of Medicine’s National Institutes of Health. Substantial data in the studies suggests that smoking cigarettes regularly presents a very significant risk factor for AD. In fact, in 2010, 43 studies published from 1984 to 2009 revealed the magnitude of smoking as a risk factor.

Several pathological processes contribute to the increased health risks resulting from smoking.  These include increasing total homocysteine levels (a factor known for increasing the risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and AD), acceleration of atherosclerosis in the brain-leading to the buildup of beta amyloid plaques and more. Neurodegenerative diseases and chronic smoking have also been linked to oxidative stress in the brain.  This is the same mechanism that contributes to coronary artery disease.

Smoking exacerbates the rate of oxidative stress, which is thought to result in AD neuropathology - such as neurofibrillary tangle pathology (also referred to as abnormal tau protein, a primary marker for AD).  In addition, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension, as well as high cholesterol in the blood, have all been linked to both AD and chronic smoking.

Research studies conclude that a reduction in the incidence of smoking will likely reduce the future prevalence of AD.  Studies have indicated that secondhand smoke also increases the rate of all types of dementia, including AD.  Smokers with dementia have been found to die earlier than non-smokers with dementia.

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