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Smoking cigarettes not only has the great potential to give you cancer and lung disease, but it may also apparently shrink your poor brain, leading to dementia and Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science.

A team of researchers from Missouri and North Carolina reviewed data from more than 32,000 Europeans to unpack whether smoking causes decreasing brain volume or whether genetic factors — a predisposition to picking up a smoking habit or having a naturally smaller brain — can lead to a smoking habit.

"It is known that there are associations between smoking behavior and lower total brain volume and gray and white matter volumes," the researchers write. "However, a significant question remains about whether these associations represent predisposing features for the risk of developing cigarette smoking or are consequences of cigarette smoking."

Specifically, they looked over data on health behaviors, brain scans, and genetic risk factors, all drawn from the dataset known as the UK Biobank, and then performed statistical analysis to see if daily smoking led to decreased brain volume over time.

After crunching the numbers, the researchers are convinced that daily smoking leads to smaller brains rather than the other way around — and that heavier smoking results in greater brain matter loss, according to the study. The more years a person smokes, strikingly, the more brain volume is irreversibly lost.

Growing older already leads you to smaller brain volume over time, but smoking lots of cigs appears to shrink your brain and prematurely age it as well, leading to higher incidence of dementia and Alzheimer's. Astonishingly, the researchers estimate that "14 percent of global Alzheimer’s disease cases could be attributable to cigarette smoking."

Though this damage can't be undone, researchers note that stopping your cigarette habit can at least halt the process.

"You can’t undo the damage that has already been done, but you can avoid causing further damage," said the study's first author and Washington University School of Medicine graduate student Yoonhoo Chang. "Smoking is a modifiable risk factor. There’s one thing you can change to stop aging your brain and putting yourself at increased risk of dementia, and that’s to quit smoking."

More on cigarettes: Smoking Cigarettes Appears to Cause Mental Illness, Scientists Say, but With a Catch

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