Thursday, 2 October 2008

Smoking and your Health

The two most common health concerns associated with smoking are emphysema and lung cancer, but there are many other ways that smoking can affect your health.

Smoking can alter your brain activity. Smoking has been found to affect the brain in a similar way as heroin by triggering the release of the chemicals in your brain known as opioids. Opioids play a role in soothing pain, increasing positive emotions, and giving a sense of reward. As smokers smoke the activity in these chemical receptors increases, causing the smoker to easily become addicted. Unfortunately, studies show that after a smoker has been smoking for awhile the chemical receptors for those opioids can lose 20 to 30% of activity which contributes to the nicotine withdrawal that so many smokers suffer from.

Smoking can increase your risk of developing cataracts. Cataracts cause the eye lens to become cloudy, leading to decreased vision. Smoking affects your vision in two ways. First, the direct inhalation of cigarette chemicals; second, indirect smoking lowers the body’s levels of antioxidants and certain enzymes known as “endogenous proteolytic enzymes,” which are known to help in the removal of damaged protein from the eye lens.

Smoking can reduce your sense of smell by polluting your nasal cavity, which also reduces your sense of taste since smell is so closely related to your ability to taste.

The thyroid controls how quickly the body burns energy, makes proteins, and how sensitive the body should be to other hormones. Tobacco smoke contains chemicals such as cyanide that can affect the function of the thyroid. It can cause what is known as anti-thyroid behaviors such as inhibiting iodide uptake and hormone synthesis. Studies show that smokers are more likely to have thyroid enlargement which can be a sign of a thyroid disorder, and smokers are twice as likely to develop Graves’ disease, a thyroid disorder that causes the bulging of the eyes, a thickening of the skin, and hyperthyroidism, causing increased speed of the body’s organs and intestines.

Smoking can cause premature aging of the skin by restricting the blood vessels in the outermost layers of the skin. This reduces blood flow to your skin, depleting it of oxygen and other important nutrients such as Vitamin A, which provides protection against skin damaging radicals. Smoking also damages collagen and elastin, which are fibers in your skin that give it strength and elasticity. Smoking not only affects your facial skin, but has been known to affect skin on other parts of your body such as your inner arms. Also, the “smokers face,” which are the facial expressions made while smoking (such as the pursing of the lips and the squinting of the eyes when smoking) can add to wrinkles around the eyes and mouth as well as the development of hollow cheeks, more prevalent in underweight smokers.

Oral health
Tobacco is a major contributor to dental health problems. Tar from cigarettes deposit onto the teeth causing discoloration and stains. Tobacco is a main factor in gum disease. In fact, smokers are four times more likely to suffer from advanced periodontal disease than those who have never smoked. Tobacco can damage your gum tissue by affecting the attachment of bone and soft tissue to your teeth. Tobacco reduces blood flow to your gums, depriving them of oxygen and nutrients that allow them to stay healthy. The same effects occur on skin tissue. This makes your gums more vulnerable to bacterial infection like periodontal disease. Tobacco chemicals have also been shown to hinder healing in patients with oral inflammation, oral wounds, or after oral surgery by weakening the immune system, making smokers more likely to lose teeth and not respond to treatment. Smokers are also six times as likely as non smokers to develop cancers of the mouth and throat. Smoking also tends to irritate the throat, giving smokers problems with coughing, hoarseness, and difficulty in swallowing.

Arms and Legs
Smoking can damage blood vessels in your heart, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the hands and feet, causing poor blood circulation. Smoking has been known to be a major factor in Buerger’s disease. Buerger’s disease is a disease of the arteries and veins in the arms and legs. It is characterized by a combination of inflammation and clots in blood vessels which impair blood flow. This eventually damages and destroys tissues, leading to infection and gangrene. Poor blood circulation can also lead to peripheral vascular disease in the legs, feet, arms, and hands. Both of these diseases may result in severe pain and can lead to amputation.

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