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Heavy Smoking Found to Increase Dementia Risk—Through Sleep Apnea?

Posted Nov 03 2010 4:20am

Heavy smokers were found to have more than twice the risk of developing dementia later in life. This study was published recently online in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Besides all the known detrimental effects of smoking in general, nicotine is known to relax the lower esophageal sphincter. This can lead to increased reflex, and what happens when your stomach juices reach your throat? It causes inflammation and swelling, promoting more frequent breathing pauses, especially if you’re on your back and in deep sleep, when your muscles are most relaxed.

Furthermore, the presence of acid in your throat can desensitize chemoreceptors, which can diminish the protective mechanisms that help you to wake up and swallow, so you don’t aspirate your stomach juices into your lungs.

More frequent obstructions as well as prolonged breathing pauses eventually lead to periods of oxygen deprivation to your brain, which leads to inflammation and ultimately brain damage. It’s actually been shown experimentally in mice that chronic hypoxia leads to beta amyloid plaques in the brain. Untreated sleep apnea patients are also found to have multiple areas of brain tissue volume and density in critical areas that control memory, executive function, motor control and involuntary functions.

Notice that heavy alcohol use is also linked with dementia (from muscle relaxation). The combination of alcohol and smoking is a deadly mix. Risks for throat cancer go up exponentially if you add significant alcohol to chronic smoking.

We also know that obesity is linked with an increased risk for cancer. Obesity is definitely linked with obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is linked with cardiovascular disease, especially stroke. Anything that increases your risk of obstructive sleep apnea can increase your risk for dementia.

Just thinking outside the box here, but what if your lungs were to be chronically irritated by stomach juices? Could it cause or aggravate asthma, coughing, COPD, or even cancer?

What are your thoughts on my hypothesis? I’d like to hear your opinion.

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