A Moment of Science

Does Nicotine Prevent Memory Loss?

"I'm hearing that nicotine can help prevent memory loss in older adults... is this true?"

black and white photo of someone holding a lit cigarette

Photo: Justin Shearer (Flickr)

Put down the cigarette!

Time to go again to the A Moment of Science mailbag. A listener writes:

Dear A Moment of Science,

I smoked for a long time and finally quit a few years ago. Now I’m hearing that nicotine can help prevent memory loss in older adults. I’m getting up there in years so I know this sounds crazy, but should I start smoking again if my memory starts to slip?

First, let’s be clear: you should absolutely not start smoking again for any reason. Smoking cigarettes and cigars, or chewing tobacco is harmful in so many ways.

Looking At The Study

However, there may be something to what you’ve heard about nicotine and memory loss. Scientists at Vanderbilt University studied how wearing nicotine patches might help older adults with mild cognitive impairment. The study found that nicotine patches helped improve their memory and processing speed.

Now, this was a relatively small study involving around seventy people. So it doesn’t mean that anyone with memory loss can fix it by wearing a nicotine patch. And there’s also no evidence that nicotine can help improve memory and brain power for people without memory problems. In fact, too much nicotine in your system can have harmful effects.

Nicotine And Memory

But what the study found is interesting. And with further research the scientists may be able to figure out how to use nicotine to delay memory loss or alter the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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