Doctor’s Tip: Adverse health effects from smoking
Humans have been smoking for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that scientists in Germany found a link between smoking and lung cancer. Over subsequent decades the evidence that smoking causes health problems became overwhelming. The percentage of people in developed countries who smoke has been dropping since the 1960s, but the percentage is increasing in developing countries.
Unfortunately, 15 percent of Americans still smoke (about 36.5 million), and smoking is the most common cause of preventable death. Tobacco smoke contains over 5,000 identified chemicals, so it’s not surprising that it has many adverse health effects.
The most common cause of death in the U.S. is cardiovascular disease — heart attacks and strokes. Our arteries are lined by a delicate organ called the endothelium. Smoking inflames the endothelium and causes it to thicken and eventually to form plaque (hardening of the arteries). When plaque becomes inflamed — one of the causes being smoking — it can rupture, resulting in a heart attack or stroke. Smoking can also affect the arteries in other parts of the body, causing conditions such as peripheral vascular disease (blockages in the leg arteries) and E.D.
Cigarette smoke contains myriad carcinogens. Nine out of 10 deaths from lung cancer in the U.S. are attributable to smoking, and lung cancer now causes more deaths in woman than breast cancer. Smokers are at higher risk for many other cancers as well: bladder; blood (leukemia); cervix; colon and rectal; kidney; voice box; liver; mouth, throat and tongue; pancreas; and stomach. If everyone in America stopped smoking 1 out of 3 cancer deaths would be prevented.
Smoking also damages and destroys the delicate air sacs in the lungs, known as alveoli, resulting in emphysema, which leads to constant need for supplemental oxygen and a slow death. Smoking causes premature aging, affecting all our organs including our skin (premature wrinkling). It increases the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. It also harms immune function and contributes to infertility. In pregnant women it contributes to premature births, low birth weight, and cleft lip and palate. It is one of the causes of sudden infant death syndrome.
Smoking is not only bad for the people who smoke, but also for the people around them. If you were raised in a household with people who smoked, your risk is increased for several of the above conditions.
Smoking raises levels of dopamine and endorphins, making it very addictive. It’s certainly best not to start smoking in the first place, but if you do smoke, it is possible to quit, and many people do. Certain prescription such as bupropion help. And there are helpful sites on the internet such as Quit Colorado. Smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco) has many of the same adverse health effects as cigarettes, and e-cigarettes have their own set of problems.
There are many similarities between the fight against Big Tobacco years ago and the current fight against Big Food, such as:
As the science linking tobacco and disease became more overwhelming, the tobacco companies tried to deny the evidence and sow seeds of doubt on the science. Currently food companies use the same tactics.
Tobacco companies came up with unhelpful gimmicks such as filters and low tar cigarettes and even organic tobacco. Currently food companies are coming up with gimmicks like “Fruit Loops now contain fiber,” and “organic cane sugar.”
For years doctors didn’t get that smoking was bad (remember the ad “Most doctors smoke Camels”?), but eventually they did get it, and virtually no doctors smoke these days. Currently most doctors don’t get unhealthy eating and its connection to disease, but hopefully eventually they will.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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