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What Happens to Your Body When You Smoke?

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By Dr. Mercola

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 18 out of every 100 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (17.8 percent) smoke cigarettes today. This means an estimated 42.1 million adults in the United States are cigarette smokers. Even more stunning; on average, smoking causes 480,000 deaths per year in the country, which is roughly 1,300 deaths per day.1 It is expected that eight million people will die in 2030 if the current smoking rate continues.

Background of Cigarette Smoking

Smoking is said to stimulate pleasing and enjoyable emotions, and smokers claim that it helps boost their mood, alleviates minor depression and small fits of anger, improves concentration and short-term memory, and can also provide a modest sense of well-being. This is because cigarettes contain the addictive substance nicotine that stimulates dopamine in the brain, which is responsible for the "pleasurable sensations."

However, the more you smoke, the more your nerve cells become immune to the pleasure brought on by smoking. As a result, smokers tend to increase their intake of nicotine to get that desirable feeling from smoking.2

Despite the "pleasure" that one gets from puffing a cigarette, remember this: smoking comes with devastating health effects.

If you think smoking an e-cig makes a difference, it doesn't. Researchers actually found that a brand of e-cigarette contains more than 10 times the level of carcinogen contained in a regular cigarette. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, both harmful toxins, were also found in the vapor produced by several types of e-cigarettes.

Remember while smoking makes you feel good for a period of time, it slowly kills your body, and is the LEADING preventable cause of death in the US.3

What Are the Side Effects of Smoking Cigarettes?

Smoking harms your body and may cause permanent damage to your health. If you're still not convinced about its dangers, take a look at some of smoking's side effects.

Short-Term Effects

Smokers tend to have smelly clothes and hair, bad breath, and yellow or brown teeth stains. Your physical appearance can also suffer as smoking can lead to premature wrinkles, gum and tooth loss, and sudden weight change. Stomach ulcers and weakened immune system are also possible smoking side effects you might experience.4

For young people, there is a high probability that they will continue smoking into adulthood. As a result, it will impair their lung function and growth. Teens who smoke are also 22 times more likely to use cocaine.

According to a new Australian study, female smokers may experience worse menstrual cramps than those who don't. It is likely to happen as the amount of oxygen that travels to the uterus decreases when you smoke. Researchers say that women who started to smoke at the tender age of 13 have a 59 percent risk of having painful menstruation, while those who started to smoke at age 14 or 15 have 50 percent risk of experiencing it.5

Long-Term Effects

Many people don't begin to feel the severe side effects of smoking until years later. Once you begin to feel the symptoms, you know damage has already been done. Some damaging side effects of smoking cigarettes include:

  • Cardiovascular health problems. Smoking poses a great danger to your heart and blood vessels. It damages the structure of your heart and the way your blood vessels work.6 Smoking increases your risk of having a heart disease by two to four times, as it causes the blood vessels in your heart to thicken and grow thinner. It makes your heart beat faster, your blood pressure rise, and causes your blood to clot. When a clot blocks the blood flow to your heart, it cannot get enough oxygen, which damages a part of your heart's muscle or even kills it.
  • People who smoke have a higher risk of atherosclerosis, a disease where the plaque liquids build in the arteries. As time progresses, it will cause your arteries to harden and narrow, which will limit the flow of the oxygen-filled blood to other parts of your body.

    Smoking may also lead to coronary heart disease (CHD) once the plaque liquids build up in the coronary arteries. It can lead to chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmias, or death.

    Another side effect of smoking cigarettes is Peripheral Arterial Disease (P.A.D.), which happens when plaque liquids build up to the blood vessels that deliver blood to the head, organs, and limbs. Smokers who have diabetes and take birth control pills are at greater risk of having serious ailments to the heart and blood vessels. 7

  • Increased risk of stroke. Smokers have a two to four times increased risk of having a stroke than non-smokers. It happens when a clot blocks the blood from your brain or when an artery around or in your brain explodes.8
  • Respiratory problems. Our lungs are equipped with a layer of internal mucus that serves as a protective shield for foreign materials that we inhale, by wiping off these contaminants with small hairs called cilia. But with smokers, cilia cannot function properly as these tiny hairs work rather slowly. As a result, you cannot cough, sneeze, or swallow to get these toxins out of your body.9
  • Smoking can trigger or make an asthma attack worse.10 It may also cause Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In emphysema, the air sacs in your lungs eventually lose their elasticity and start to worsen. Chronic bronchitis happens when there is a swelling in the linings of your lungs and it constrains your breathing.11

  • Pregnancy complications. Pregnant women who smoke have a higher risk of preterm (early) delivery, miscarriage, or stillbirth. They may encounter Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), ectopic pregnancy, and orofacial clefts for the newborns. Women also have a great tendency of having weaker bones after menopause.12
  • Reproductive health function. Men who smoke may encounter erectile dysfunction, poor sperm quality, and sperm defects. For women, smoking may cause reduced fertility.13
  • Cancer. Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals, some of which can cause cancer. These include formaldehyde, benzene, polonium 210, and vinyl chloride.14 Even worse, smoking can cause various kinds of cancers anywhere in your body, not just in your lungs, such as: 15
  • Bladder Blood (acute myeloid leukemia) Cervix
    Colon and rectum (colorectal) Esophagus Kidney and ureter
    Larynx Liver Oropharynx
    Pancreas Stomach Trachea, bronchus, and lung

Radioactive Chemical Found in Fertilizers Leads to Lung Cancer

Did you know that your body also accumulates harmful radioactive chemicals from cigarettes? These dangerous elements come from the pesticides used on tobacco fields.

While it is true that smoking cigarettes can cause cancer, there is a more specific substance that is the root cause of cancer among smokers. Tobacco fields typically use calcium phosphate fertilizers, which contain polonium-210. When polonium-210 decays, it releases alpha particles that can damage human cells they come into contact with.

Research suggests that main lung damage comes from the radiation emitted by these fertilizers.16,17,18 It also showed that polonium, specifically, causes cancer in laboratory animals.19 Moreover, according to a study in 200920 the radiation that you get from smoking 1 ½ cigarette packs is tantamount to 300 chest x-ray films per year.

A 2011 report from Nicotine and Tobacco Research21 also revealed there are internal documents stating that the tobacco industry have recognized the danger brought by these radioactive chemicals. According to these papers, acid wash was found to be an effective solution in removing polonium-210 from the tobacco leaves, but the industry avoided using it as it would lessen the pleasurable effect of nicotine to smokers.

The tobacco industry will certainly not be your number one motivator in stopping you from smoking, even if they know that this may lead to your death. It is now your decision to throw away your smoking habit for good and choose a healthier lifestyle, which can add more years to your life.

What Happens When a Smoker Quits

The process of quitting requires determination and patience as it will affect you both physically and mentally, so be prepared for its withdrawal period. But nonetheless, it will greatly benefit in many ways even just minutes after quitting.

Quit Smoking

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Tips on How to Quit Smoking

People who have been addicted to smoking for a long time still have hope in turning over a new leaf. I suggest that you practice these prevention techniques to help you quit smoking:22

  • Choose a Quit Day. Pick a day that is not stressful for you so that you can prepare yourself. It can be your birthday, your anniversary, or even just the first day of the month.
  • Don't Quit Alone. Telling someone about your decision to quit can give an enormous support when you feel alone in your battle to quit.
  • Know Your Nicotine Replacement Options. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) can be a great help in quitting smoking as it can help you overcome the withdrawal symptoms. It is considered safe for all smokers except for pregnant women and people with heart disease.23
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five forms of nicotine replacement therapy (patch, gum, nasal spray, inhalers, and lozenges) for those who are attempting to quit. But it is still best to ask a medical professional about which form of NRT is most suitable for you.24

  • Get Smart About Your Smoking. Keeping a journal can help you track the situations that helped you up or pushed you down in your attempt to quit smoking, so you can determine how you can deal with them without reaching for a cigarette.
  • Identify Your Triggers. Make a list of all the things that you have done in the past that involves smoking. Before your quit day, prepare yourself on how you will deal with these things.
  • Change the What, Where, When and How You Smoke. Altering you habits – the time and places where you used to smoke - can help you during your attempt to quit.
  • Spring Clean. Wash and throw away everything that reminds you of smoking.
  • Get Support. It is great if you can get help from communities of former smokers or a clinic that specializes in helping those who want quit.
  • Quit Day and Beyond. You have to adjust your behavior to identify what triggers you to smoke.
  • If You're Going to Do It, Do It! Commitment is key to be successful in your attempt to quit. It will certainly be hard but it is worth it.

Quitting smoking may be hard, but I advise you to do it as early as now. I really believe that having a healthy, smoke-free lifestyle will not only benefit you but your family as well.

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