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Study: Women Who Quit Smoking by Age 40 Avoid 90% of Death Risk

Quit Smoking

Story at-a-glance -

  • Among women smokers who quit before the age of 40, more than 90 percent of the excess mortality caused by continuing smoking was avoided; for women who quit before the age of 30, 97 percent of excess mortality was avoided.
  • Ideally, it’s best to not start smoking in the first place, but if you’re a current smoker, the research suggests that no matter what your age, quitting can be beneficial.
  • I believe the “secret” to quitting successfully is to get healthy first BEFORE you stop, which includes making changes to your diet and exercise programs, as well as addressing the emotional component.
  • While media publications make it appear as though drugs or nicotine patches are necessary to quit, two-thirds to three-quarters of people quit smoking unaided, i.e. “cold turkey.”

By Dr. Mercola

Your body has a remarkable ability to heal, and this was recently highlighted by a study of over 1 million women born during the "greatest generation," – around the year 1940.

This was a generation of women for whom smoking was very commonplace, and the pastime actually reached its peak of popularity as they were coming into adulthood.

Obviously, the risks of smoking are now well established, and the study, which followed the women until January 2011, found that smokers lost at least 10 years of lifespan compared to non-smokers, and two-thirds of all deaths of smokers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s were caused by smoking.1

What was quite remarkable, however, was what happened among the women who chose to quit...

Quitting Smoking Before Age 40 Dramatically Improves Your Health

Among the women who quit smoking before the age of 40, more than 90 percent of the excess mortality caused by continuing smoking was avoided. For women who quit before the age of 30, the benefit was even more dramatic, with 97 percent of excess mortality vanishing. The researchers stated:2

"Although the hazards of smoking until age 40 years and then stopping are substantial, the hazards of continuing are ten times greater."

Ideally, it's best to not start smoking in the first place, but if you're a current smoker, the research suggests that no matter what your age, quitting can be extremely beneficial. For instance, if you quit smoking before the age of 50, you cut your risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared to those who keep smoking.3

One in five U.S. adults currently smoke, and smoking is conventionally viewed as the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, responsible for nearly one in five deaths.4 As the American Cancer Society stated:5

"About half of all Americans who keep smoking will die because of the habit. Each year about 443,000 people in the United States die from illnesses related to tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined."

However, we know this view is a distorted lie and that while smoking is indeed a pernicious behavior and best avoided, it pales in comparison to two other major risk factors. Sadly these risk factors are not viewed as risk factors at all so you will never see them quoted in the media. These two risk factors are the excessive use of sugar and relying on the conventional health care system for health challenges. Both of these behaviors are far more deadly than smoking.

My mom has been a smoker for over sixty years and I really don't hassle her about it because she is not taking any medications, has a really great diet and uses a device to poke holes in her cigarettes that reduces the amount of smoke she inhales by 95%. I have learned that it is best to allow her to have this one vice and help control the other variables, which are far more damaging to her health.

Some researchers like Dr. Monte believe that one of the main toxins in cigarette smoke is methanol. This is the same toxin in diet sodas. The reason this is significant? If you drink small amounts of alcohol a day you can have the alcohol dehydorenase enzyme preferentially metabolize the ethanol rather than converting the methanol to formaldehyde.  However I believe it is healthier to eat fermented veggies, as the bacteria will also produce small amounts of alcohol and provide the same benefit.

Are You Thinking About Taking Drugs to Help You Quit Smoking?

Nearly 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit completely,6 but opting for drugs to help you do so is something you shouldn't take lightly. Take the stop-smoking drug Chantix, for instance. This drug may cause an inordinately high number of serious side effects, including suicides and psychotic reactions where people with no history of violent behavior suddenly kill themselves or others after taking the drug.

There are hundreds of lawsuits pending against Pfizer (the drug's manufacturer) alleging that Chantix caused serious injury or deaths. This includes one case where a man suddenly shot himself and his wife in what their families describe as a "Chantix-fueled rage."7 An analysis by the non-profit Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP)8 also found that in the third quarter of 2010, Chantix:

  • Surpassed all other regularly monitored drugs in terms of adverse events
  • Ranked first in reported deaths, totaling more than twice as many as any other drug they regularly monitor
  • Accounted for more possible cases than any other drug for suicidal/self-injurious behavior, depression, psychosis, hostility/aggression, and convulsions

In my opinion the risks of taking this drug far outweigh the potential benefits of stopping smoking. I do suggest quitting to be optimally healthy (and for the health of those who live with you) -- but using a toxic drug like Chantix is just not a wise solution.

The "Secret" to Quitting Smoking that Many Overlook

In my experience there is a great deal of confusion surrounding aggressive stop-smoking recommendations. Most experts advise this as a primary recommendation and pay little attention to a person's diet. This is unfortunate, as when many people quit smoking, they end up replacing cigarettes with junk foods and may end up gaining a significant amount of weight, which in many ways is just as harmful to your health.

So, what's the trick to quitting smoking?

I believe the "secret" is to get healthy first, which will make quitting all that much easier. Exercising is part and parcel of this plan, and as research shows people who engage in regular strength training double their success rate at quitting smoking compared to those who don't exercise.9 Healthy eating is another crucial aspect that can't be ignored. In short, if you want to quit, here are the three basic tips to get you started:

  1. Read through my recently revised and very comprehensive free nutrition plan to get started eating right.
  2. Develop a well-rounded exercise regimen. It is your ally to fighting disease, and to quitting smoking. Strength training is an important part, but also remember to incorporate high-intensity interval exercises like Peak Fitness, core-strengthening exercises, aerobic, and stretching.
  3. Find a healthy emotional outlet. Many people use exercise, meditation, or relaxation techniques for this, and these are all great. I also recommend incorporating the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), as this can help clear out emotional blockages from your system (some of which you might not even realize are there), thus restoring your mind and body's balance and helping you break the addiction and avoid cravings.

Once you are regularly doing these three things, then you can begin to think about quitting smoking. The best method to do so appears to be cold turkey, as research shows that two-thirds to three-quarters of ex-smokers stop unaided.10

An Antioxidant All Smokers and Ex-Smokers Should Know About

If you're a current or ex-smoker, your body has been exposed to an onslaught of toxic chemicals (there are about 600 ingredients in cigarettes, which create more than 4,000 chemicals when they're burned). Here is a partial list of the chemicals in tobacco smoke, and other places they are found:11

Acetone – found in nail polish remover Acetic Acid – an ingredient in hair dye Ammonia – a common household cleaner Arsenic – used in rat poison
Benzene – found in rubber cement Butane – used in lighter fluid Cadmium – active component in battery acid Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes
Formaldehyde – embalming fluid Hexamine – found in barbecue lighter fluid Lead – used in batteries Napthalene – an ingredient in moth balls
Methanol – a main component in rocket fuel Nicotine – used as insecticide Tar – material for paving roads Toluene - used to manufacture paint


Free radicals generated by cigarette smoking and its related chemicals dramatically increase oxidative stress in the body, which contributes to the pathobiology of various diseases, the most well-known of which is lung cancer. The best choice for your health, and the health of those around you, is to quit smoking in order to reduce your exposure to these toxins.

However, you should also know about astaxanthin, which has been found to be powerful enough to help prevent oxidative damage in smokers. Astaxanthin is produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis, and is currently thought to be the most powerful antioxidant found in nature. You can also get it from sea creatures that consume the algae, such as salmon, shellfish, and krill, as well as in supplement form.

In one study, smokers were divided into three dosage groups, receiving 5, 20, or 40 mg of astaxanthin per day for three weeks. The total antioxidant capacity increased in all three dosage groups and, in particular, isoprostane levels (one of the oxidative stress biomarkers measured) showed a significant dose-dependent decrease. The authors stated:12

"The results suggest that [astaxanthin] supplementation might prevent oxidative damage in smokers by suppressing lipid peroxidation and stimulating the activity of the antioxidant system in smokers."

Again, I believe quitting smoking is always the best choice. But if you have a friend or relative who simply refuses to do so, this may be one way to help limit the toll it takes on their health.