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Does smoking increase your risk for dementia and cognitive decline?

Photo by Abhishek Koli on Unsplash

Scientists from the Uniformed Services University (USU), Emory University and the University of Vermont have found that cigarette smoking is linked to increased lesions in the brain’s white matter, called white matter hyperintensities.  White matter hyperintensities, detected by MRI scan, are associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. These findings may help explain the link between smoking and increased rates of dementia and other forms of cognitive decline.

The study, “Associations of cigarette smoking with gray and white matter in the UK Biobank” was published online in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology, https://rdcu.be/b1jPS

In June 2019, the Surgeons General of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and United States, released an open letter stating that tobacco use is a threat to the health and fitness of U.S. military forces and compromises readiness. This burden also extends to care provided by the Veterans Health Administration, which spends more than $2.5 billion annually on smoking-related care.  In response, Dr. Joshua Gray, assistant professor of Medical and Clinical Psychology and Neuroscience at USU, and colleagues, examined the association between cigarette smoking and brain structure. Cigarette smoking is associated with increased risk for myriad health consequences including increased risk for neuropsychiatric conditions, but research on the link between smoking and brain structure is limited.

Their study was the largest of its kind, including MRI brain scans from more than 17,000 individuals from the UK Biobank, a large cohort of volunteers from across the United Kingdom. They found that smoking was associated with smaller total gray and white matter volume, increased white matter lesions, and variation in specific gray matter regions and white matter tracts. By controlling for important variables that often co-occur with smoking, such as alcohol use, this study identified distinct associations between smoking and brain structure, highlighting potential mechanisms of risk for common neuropsychiatric consequences of smoking such as depression and dementia.

“Cigarette smoking is known to elevate risk for neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression and dementia. We found that smoking is associated with multiple aspects of brain structure, in particular with increased white matter lesions. White matter lesions are linked to many of the same neuropsychiatric diseases as smoking,” said Gray.  “Although further research is needed to understand to what extent smoking is a cause or consequence of these aspects of brain structure, our findings suggest a mechanism that links smoking to increased risk for dementia, depression, and other brain diseases.”

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Appeal to Teens and Parents to Get Vaccinated

Unity Consortium is thrilled to welcome newest member, Ethan Lindenberger, a 19-year oldAmerican activist known for his opposition to vaccine misinformation efforts. Ethan will be featured in a number of resources as part of Unity’s Voice of AYA (Adolescents and Young Adults) campaign.

Ethan grew up being told that vaccines cause autism, brain damage, and do not benefit the health and safety of society despite the fact such opinions have been debunked numerous times by the scientific community. Through his own research, and relying on scientific evidence, he learned that vaccinations are proven to be a medical miracle, stopping the spread of numerous diseases and therefore saving countless lives. Ethan was dismayed that stories often spread through social media based on skepticism and falsities and were putting lives at danger.

“We all need to follow the CDC’s recommendations and be protected from all vaccine-preventable diseases,” noted Lindenberger.  “I felt a connection with Unity and jumped at the opportunity to become a member because they understand the value of teen and young adult involvement and our ability to be proactive and make the best decisions for ourselves based on decades of research.”

The goal of the campaign is to encourage young adults and teens to get up-to-date with recommended vaccinations and to teach them how to spot vaccine-related misinformation on the internet.  With new outbreaks in diseases, such as the measles epidemics that have hit multiple states in the US, it’s important to spread the word about the importance of vaccinations.  A Unity survey conducted by Harris poll found that 4 in 10 parents and nearly 6 in 10 teens believe teens should only see a doctor for an illness, which likely reduces opportunities for physicians to discuss preventive health measures, such as vaccination. Similarly, the survey showed that 1 in 4 parents and teens believe that vaccines are for babies and not as important for teens.

Unity’s programs focus on educating teens, young adults and parents with evidence based vaccine information. It is done in a way that is grounded in science and with respect to his generation so that teens and young adults feel empowered to make decisions for themselves.

Outcome Health, a technology company providing health education at the moment of care, partnered with Unity to produce video spots featuring Ethan.  Dr. Laura Offutt a physician and teen health advocate is also featured in the spots as an expert source. Since 2018, Outcome Health has delivered Unity’s vaccination and preventative healthcare messages across its nationwide point-of-care platform; this is the first time the organizations have collaborated on a joint video campaign. Outcome Health will run the videos on their screens in tens of thousands of doctors’ offices across the country. Ethan will also post a number of blogs about AYA vaccination over the coming months.

“Millions of adolescents and young adults in the U.S. are not fully vaccinated and not even aware that they’re missing recommended vaccines,” said Judy Klein, President of Unity Consortium. “We are working with Ethan to amplify his voice.  He is all about galvanizing teens to do their homework on the power of vaccination to protect themselves against preventable diseases, and the imperative of being caught up on all missing immunizations. Outcome Health is a valued and exceptional partner in broadly disseminating this message.”

Unity also developed a first-of-its-kind campaign (VAX@16) emphasizing the 16-year-old well-visit and the vaccines that can help protect teens as they head into adulthood. Unity’s VAX@16 campaign aims to increase awareness among parents, teens, and health care providers of the vaccinations recommended for 16-year-olds, including Meningococcal ACWY (MenACWY), Meningococcal B (MenB), and flu (seasonally). 

Ethan commented, “We each have the power to protect ourselves from serious and potentially dangerous illnesses like meningitis and the measles.  We grew up learning to wear a helmet when we rode a bike in case we fall and to wear a seat belt in casewe are in an accident.  What about getting a vaccine in casewe are exposed to a lethal illness?” 

The Voices of AYA campaign featuring Ethan Lindenberger resourcesare available on Unity’s website and include videos that feature Ethan and Dr. Laura Offutt, Lead for Unity’s Teen Advisory Council.

About Unity Consortium

Unity Consortium is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that brings together diverse groups that share a common and passionate interest in maintaining life-long health, with a focus on adolescent and young adult preventive healthcare and immunization.Unity members and liaisons represent professional/trade organizations, coalitions/educational organizations, public health, providers, technology and communications organizations, and vaccine manufacturers.

Media Contact:

Debbie Kanterman

Communications, UnityTM Consortium

Email:debbiekanterman@yahoo.com

Phone: 914-512-0277