Smoking Linked to Calcium Deposits in Part of Brain in Charge of Memory

Smokers are more likely to have calcium in a part of the brain in charge of memory, according to researchers. 

In a study involving almost 2,000 people who attended a memory clinic at a Dutch hospital, almost a fifth had higher than average levels of calcium build-up in their hippocampus. However, the scientists did not find that the deposits caused cognitive decline.

Described as the “neural Rosetta stone," this part of the brain is largely associated with long-term memories, memories relating to time, space and location, and is among the first parts to deteriorate in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants of the study visited the memory clinic between 2009 and 2015, and underwent cognitive tests and CT brain scans. Researchers also noted factors including hypertension, diabetes, and smoking. The 1,991 patients were aged between 45 to 96 years old, and 380 of them had calcification in the hippocampus.

cigarette-smoking-stock A new study suggests that smoking is linked to deposits in the part of the brain linked to memory. Getty Images

Researchers at the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht in the Netherlands found that smokers and diabetics were 50% more likely to have calcification in the hippocampus than other participants. The study was published in the journal Radiology.

Dr. Esther de Brouwer of UMC Utrecht and lead author of the study, told Reuters: “The hippocampus is an important area in the brain for memory storage, so we thought that calcifications in this area would be related with cognitive problems.”

She added that researchers were surprised to find the calcification didn’t damage the patients' memories, and argued this could be because it did not penetrate the layers of the tissue.

This is the latest study to investigate the potential link between memory and smoking. In 2011, research suggested that smokers erode their memory every day, but quitting can restore their ability to collect information to normal levels.

A team at Northumbria University in the U.K. tested the memory of 27 smokers, 18 people who had quit the habit and 24 who had never smoked, by asking them to remember instructions for tasks around a university campus. Smokers were able to remember 59 percent of tasks, while ex-smokers remembered 74 percent. Those who had never smoked could recall 81 percent of the exercises.

Dr. Tom Heffernan of the Collaboration for Drug and Alcohol Research Group at Northumbria University and lead author of the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence said at the time: "We already know that giving up smoking has huge health benefits for the body but this study also shows how stopping smoking can have knock-on benefits for cognitive function too.''

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