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Heavy smoking in midlife significantly boosts the odds of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Although previous research has clearly linked smoking with lung and heart disease as well as strokes, there was some question about whether it also clouded the mind.

U.S. and Finnish researchers analyzed data from more than 21,000 men and women who were members of a California-based health plan. The plan members answered a questionnaire - which included the topic of smoking habits - when they were in their 50s and 60s. A review of medicals records roughly two decades later revealed that those who smoked two or more packs a day had double the regular risk of getting dementia.

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Smoking is known to damage blood vessels, which may impede blood flow to the brain and contribute to cognitive decline. Smoking also causes inflammation, which is believed to play a role in Alzheimer's disease, the researchers noted.

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