Monday, December 30, 2013

Smoking & Arterial blood vessels

Smoking & Arteries

It's no secret that exposure to tobacco smoke causes a number of dangerous effects in the body. Toxins like nicotine and tar lower the "good" cholesterol and raise the "bad" cholesterol. Nicotine and carbon monoxide injure the endothelium, which allows plaque to begin forming, and limits the amount of oxygen that can be carried in the bloodstream. Blood platelets become "sticky" with tobacco exposure, clumping together to form clots. Even nonsmokers can have hardened arteries over time from high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stress, hereditary factors and high cholesterol, but smoking is said to be one of the most preventable factors.

Quitting Smoking Rejuvenates Arteries

"Smoking is a major risk factor," reports Noor Ahmed Jatoi, M.D., "not only for lung disease and cancer, but also for heart attack, stroke and heart failure." Jatoi was the lead author of a 2007 hypertension study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Previously, he had reported that smoking a single cigarette, being exposed to cigarette smoke or smoking chronically all contribute to a stiffening of the arteries, which causes more blood vessel resistance and forces the heart to pump harder.

His research looked at 554 people (with an average age of 47) who had untreated high blood pressure; they then looked at smokers, ex-smokers and non-smokers. They studied the patients using Arterial Pulse Wave Analysis to measure the stiffness of the arteries. Jatoi says current and former smokers (who had quit for one year) had significantly higher stiffness than non-smokers. Ex-smokers began to show slight improvement after one year of quitting, but they were able to bring their artery stiffness back to normal after 10 years of smoking cessation.

"Our study reinforces the message that smoking cessation is an important step smokers can take to enhance the quality and length of their lives," the report concluded. "It shows both the unhealthy effects of smoking and the benefit of smoking cessation on the arterial wall."

Active and Passive Smokers Suffer Artery Clogging

A groundbreaking 1998 UNC Chapel Hill study found that both active and passive smokers incur arterial damage and clogging, which increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks. This artery-hardening disease, called Atherosclerosis, develops even faster when smokers have blood pressure or diabetes as well.

The study of 11,000 volunteers appeared in the January 14, 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and used ultrasound to measure fatty deposits on the artery walls. Over a three-year period, researchers discovered that cigarette smokers had 50 percent more plaque on their arteries than non-smokers. Even former smokers showed a 25 percent higher level. Worst of all, those exposed to cigarette smoke showed a 20 percent increase in disease progression, compared to people who never encountered second-hand smoke.

"It is shocking to me that nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke still face about a third of the risk of smokers," lead author Dr. George Howard wrote. "Quitting not only would help smokers, but also help protect their children."

Occasional Smokers Suffer Decreased Artery Responsiveness

There are more than 9 million "casual smokers" in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics. These smokers have five cigarettes a day or less and can often go days without lighting up. They usually smoke to relieve tension from a stressful work day or as a social exercise on the weekends as they're drinking with friends. Even though they don't consider themselves "real smokers," a 2008 study out of the University of Georgia says very real damage is being done.

The study looked at 18 college students--9 non-smokers and 9 who smoked less than a pack a week. Researchers measured the responsiveness of arteries with a blood pressure cuff and found that occasional smokers were 36 percent less responsive to changes in blood flow, compared to non-smokers. After the first round of tests, participants were asked to smoke two cigarettes and have their arteries tested again. Researchers found that smoking decreased their arteries' responsiveness by another 24 percent. While the survey sample was admittedly small, the results appeared in the Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology online journal and further tests are planned.

"Most people know that if they have a cigarette or two over the weekend that it's not good for their arteries," said study co-author Kevin McCully, a professor of kinesiology in the UGA College of Education, "but what they may not be aware of---and what our study shows---is that the decrease in function persists into the next week, if not longer."

Air Pollution and Secondhand Smoke Hurt the Heart

A study published by the American Heart Association notes that just a few puffs of cigarette smoke or a few whiffs or polluted air can injure the heart. Their research showed that just being around secondhand smoke increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and atherosclerosis.

Brigham Young University researchers analyzed over 1 million patients to determine their risk of death from polluted air. They concluded that indirectly breathing in as little as one cigarette a day can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease 20 to 30 percent. Even low levels of tobacco causes inflammation and increased platelet activity in the body, researchers added.

"It doesn't require extreme exposure to have significant cardiovascular effects," stated study author C. Arden Pope III, PhD. "Even passive exposures to ambient air pollution and secondhand smoke contribute to significant increases in cardiovascular mortality. A critical finding of our study is that smoking is unhealthy even at small amounts."


The research stacks up, leaving an ominous message for smokers: Quit or Die. There are many different methods to help smokers turn a new leaf and lead healthier lives. Social smokers may prefer support groups, where they can interact with other former smokers and keep on track with moral support. Long-term smokers may use medicinal aids like Chantix or nicotine patches to help reduce their cravings. Hypnosis is another effective method to re-train the mind and break the cycle of dependency. At the end of the day, smoking is more a mental habit than anything else. All the help in the world can't help smokers who do not truly wish to quit. The CDC website has more information on kick the habit and start anew.

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