According to the CDC, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Countless studies have shown that smoking is detrimental to your overall health.
However, the human body is truly remarkable, and given time, it can repair much of the damage caused by smoking.
In this article, we’re going to discuss how each body system is affected by smoking tobacco and what exactly happens when a person quits.
Over time, smoking causes inflammation in the lungs which constricts the airways and makes it more difficult to breathe.
It destroys alveoli, which are tiny sacs in the lungs that help distribute oxygen to red blood cells so that it can be transported to other parts of the body.
Studies have shown that when a person quits smoking, it results in an increased lung capacity and improved breathing within a matter of days after quitting.
The lungs actually start showing significant improvement relatively quickly. With that said, some people may notice more coughing as the lungs clean themselves while trying to eliminate all traces of pollution that was caused by smoking.
The immune system is naturally strong in most people but smoking definitely puts a strain on it. Cigarette smoke irritates lung tissue and makes smokers more susceptible to conditions such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
With that said, when a person stops smoking, their immune system will begin to heal and strengthen itself in a relatively short period of time.
Smoking is especially harmful to the heart and blood vessels. Over time, it causes damage that increases your risk of atherosclerosis which is a disease that causes the arteries to harden and narrow due to the buildup of plaque.
This ultimately reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs and other parts of your body.
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially when it’s combined with other risk factors.
Studies show that people who smoke are at an increased risk for a heart attack and stroke as well. Even light smoking and secondhand smoke can cause damage to the heart and blood vessels.
The good news is, quitting smoking will reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease and will also lower your risk of atherosclerosis and blood clots.
According to Healtline.com, in three years after quitting smoking, your risk of a heart attack has decreased to that of a nonsmoker.
Many women who smoke experience fertility problems and find it difficult or impossible to get pregnant. Some woman smokers who are successful in getting pregnant are at an increased risk of miscarriages or other complications.
Smoking while pregnant drastically increases the risk of a number of complications in newborns because the chemicals from cigarettes interfere with fetal and postnatal development.
Smoking affects the reproductive systems of males as well. A study found that smoking negatively affects sperm health and can even cause a decreased sperm count.
Quitting smoking allows the reproductive system to function regularly and reduces the risk factors associated with infertility.
Yes, smoking even has negative effects on the kidneys in an indirect way. Smoking affects the medications that are used to treat high blood pressure. Uncontrolled hypertension for an extended period of time is one of the leading causes of kidney disease.
As previously mentioned, smoking decreases arterial blood flow to organs, including the kidneys, which can negatively impact how they function. With that said, stopping smoking helps reduce or eliminate these effects.
Nicotine in tobacco is a very addictive compound that affects the nervous system. When a person smokes, nicotine reaches the brain in matter of seconds and acts as both a stimulant and a depressant to the central nervous system.
It causes a release of the hormones epinephrine and dopamine which leads to the feelings of pleasure and contentment that comes from smoking a cigarette.
Said feelings are short-lived, however, and are followed by fatigue which gives the smoker a craving for another cigarette. This cycle is how people become so easily addicted to smoking cigarettes.
The chemicals found in cigarette smoke can have a detrimental effects on your skin. As previously mentioned, smoking causes narrowed arteries and decreased blood flow. When the blood flow is reduced, the skin cells receive less oxygen and nutrients. This loss of essential nutrients causes the skin to lose its shine and causes creasing or wrinkles to appear.
Premature aging causes skin around and under the eyes to look wrinkled and older in appearance. Because smoking tends to accelerate the effects of aging on the skin, stopping brings positive results to the face, neck, and hands.
Smokers tend to have yellow stains on their fingernails as well, but this will disappear over time after quitting. The nails will regain their shine and luster in a relatively short amount of time.
Studies found that the chemicals found in cigarette smoke, when inhaled, can contribute to hair loss.
Similar to your skin, hair follicles also suffer because of the slowing of blood circulation in the body caused by smoking. With that said, when a person stops smoking, the hair begins to regain its fullness and look healthier and thicker.
Another thing to consider is the smell. Even expensive shampoos cannot hide the cigarette smell that often lingers in the hair of smokers. So a person who quits smoking will benefit from less hair loss and better smelling hair.
Those who smoke cigarettes are more likely to suffer from dental problems, such as:
- Bad breath
- Stained teeth
- Gum disease
- Loss of taste and smell
- Increased plaque and tartar build-up
- Increased risk of oral cancer
Bad breath and stained teeth are caused by the tar and nicotine found in cigarettes. The more serious detrimental problems, such as gum disease and oral cancer, stem from reduced blood circulation to the mouth that is caused by smoking.
It should also be noted that approximately 90% of those with cancer of the mouth or throat use or have used tobacco for a period of time.
The good news is, those who quit will benefit from a decreased risk of obtaining oral cancer. They’ll also benefit from fresher breath, less teeth staining, better sense of taste and smell, and a reduced risk of gum disease.
Is There a Link Between Smoking and Breast Cancer?
As doctors expected, many studies have linked smoking to an increased risk of breast cancer. This is especially true for women who start smoking before they have their first child.
A study found that they are 61% more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer compared to women who never smoked.
While evidence does not prove a direct link between smoking and breast cancer, it does suggest a strong association between the two.
What are the Effects of Smoking on Mental Health?
Most of this article has been focused on how smoking affects the physical organs of the body. Smoking affects you mentally as well.
Smoking tends to cause relaxation in the short-term which temporarily reduces stress. This is one of the reasons its so addicting. With that said, ultimately smoking increases levels of tension and anxiety and increases the likelihood of depression over time.
So if you smoke, you have to ask yourself, “Is the short-term boost worth the long-term detriments to your health?”
Quitting smoking relieves a lot of the stress and anxiety and also helps with depression. As mental health improves, people can enjoy a better quality of life.
If you truly want to reduce your risk of the diseases, conditions, and risks that are associated with smoking cigarettes, all you have to do is never start.
But, I realize that ship has already sailed for many people. The good news is, if you do already smoke, quitting now will benefit each of your body systems and much of the damage can be reversed.
It’s never too late to quit smoking —the organs of your body will thank you for it. Thank you so much for reading and as always, breathe easy my friend.
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
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