Smoking tobacco could increase the risk of developing depression and schizophrenia

To date, the idea that people suffering from mental illnesses, including depression and schizophrenia, were allowed to smoke more was fully accepted, although it was not possible to establish whether we were facing a cause and effect relationship and if it is the mental illness that increases the likelihood of smoking or whether smoking is itself a risk factor for developing a mental illness. The researchers also found evidence that the genetic predisposition to depression increases smoking, but their work focuses mainly on the harmful effects caused by smoking in mental health.

Now, an investigation by experts from the University of Bristol (United Kingdom) establishes a relationship in this regard and concludes that smoking tobacco increases the risk of suffering from depression and schizophrenia after analyzing data from the Biobank of the United Kingdom of 462,690 individuals of European descent, which comprise the current 8 percent smokers and 22 percent former smokers.

«People with mental illnesses are often overlooked in our efforts to reduce the prevalence of smoking, which implies health inequalities», criticized the study’s lead author, Robyn Wootton, in a comment contained in the website of University. According to this research, smoking is the largest individual factor that contributes to a 10 to 20 years reduction in life expectancy among people with mental disorders. Therefore, the authors urged to redouble efforts to make individuals with this kind of problems stop smoking.

Smoking and mental health

The results of the work, published in the journal ‘Psychological Medicine’, are the result of the application of an analytical approach called Mendelian randomization, which uses genetic variants associated with an exposure (for example, smoking) to support stronger conclusions about the relationships of cause and effect. And in this case, the researchers found evidence that smoking tobacco increases the risk of depression and schizophrenia, but also that depression and schizophrenia increase the probability of smoking, although in the case of schizophrenia the evidence on the increase was weaker.

In addition, it is not the first work that warns of the possible relationship between smoking and the damage to mental health since a previous study, also from the University of Bristol in collaboration with that of Amsterdam, showed a relationship between smoking and the possibility of developing Bipolar disorder. And the problem, experts say, is that, beyond the evidence that smoking can be detrimental to mental health and increase the chances of suffering concerted pathologies, much of the death rate associated with mental illness is due to habit smoking, so basically, two important challenges must be faced: the one that concerns mental health and the one that causes a considerable number of deaths due to diseases associated with smoking.

Wootton and his team also warned that nicotine hinders dopamine and serotonin receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a natural chemical that regulates emotions, while serotonin, known as the happiness hormone, contributes to the sense of well-being. To reach these conclusions, the measurements were carried out on a sample of almost half a million people between 40 and 69 years old based on data from the British biobank. The study thus adds a new disorder to the variety of problems that are already associated with cigarette consumption.

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