Despite all the negative effects of smoking, many people still chose to smoke. This article will explore the mechanisms by which smoking affects our health and well-being as well as explain how addiction occurs and how to over come it.
Chemicals in Cigarette Smoke
Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic and poisonous. The most toxic and dangerous are bellow:
- Tar – Toxic brown sticky residue which stains smokers teeth and hands.
- Arsenic – A known carcinogen and damages the cardiovascular system.
- Benzene – A known carcinogen and is very strongly linked to the development of leukimea.
- Cadmium – Prevents cells repairing and damages DNA.
- Formaldehyde – Used as a anti-bacterial chemical, and is a potent carcinogen.
- Polonium-210 – Radioactive compound.
- Chromium – Carcinogen, strongly linked to lung cancer.
- 1,3-Butadiene – Carcinogen.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – Damages DNA and linked to a variety of cancers.
- Nitrosamines – Damages DNA.
- Acrolein – Structurally similar to formaldehyde, and also a carcinogen.
- Hydrogen cyanide – Very damaging to the circulatory system.
- Carbon monoxide – Bonds to red blood cells and prevents oxygen binding.
- Nitrogen oxides – Damages lung tissue and causes inflammation
- Ammonia – Damages lung cells.
Smoke in your Mouth
The first contact that smoke has with the body is the mouth. The hot smoke causes the salivary glands to become inflamed and sore. This regular inflammation can result in an increased risk of cancer cells developing or infected. The chemicals can also kill the probiotics present in the mouth, which can result in a weak oral immune system and bad breath. This can also lead to a build up of plaque and tar tar.
Smoke in your Lungs
After your mouth, the smoke travels into your lungs. As it travels into the lungs it passes over cillia cells, which are the brush like cells, and are responsible for removing debris from the lungs. Cigarette smoke paralyzes and ultimately kills these cells, which prevents the body being able to remove debris from the lungs, causing it to build up. This will reduce lung function and increases the risk of infection. The smoke then passes into the alveoli, which are the small air sacs in the lungs. These air sacs are moist, which is essential for dissolving the oxygen in the air, which allows it to pass into the circulation. Here the chemicals listed above (and many more) will also dissolve in the moisture, which will prevent the chemicals leaving the lungs in exhaled smoke. Some of the chemicals will pass into the circulatory system, but others, such as tar cannot.
This means that tar will build up in the alveoli which blocks them resulting in poor oxygen absorption. This tar cannot be removed easily as the cillia cells are paralyzed or dead and so will build up over time. This causes mucus in the lungs to become thick and makes breathing difficult. The chemicals which are breathed in with the smoke (such as ammonia) which do not pass into the circulatory system can enter the lung cells, which can damage the DNA of these cells and increase the risk of developing cancer.
Smoking & your circulatory system
Chemicals which do pass through the lungs enter the circulatory system, where they can travel throughout the body in the blood. One of these chemicals is carbon monoxide, which bonds to heamoglobin with a higher affinity than oxygen. This means carbon monoxide will bond onto the red blood cells and prevent oxygen from being able to travel throughout the body. Many of the chemicals which have now entered the circulatory system are harmful radicals, which can react with the blood vessels and damage them. This will cause the blood vessels to lose their elasticity which increases blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The cocktail of chemicals which have entered the blood makes the blood ‘stickier’, and this causes the blood vessels to contract. This means that the blood cannot easily pass through the capillaries, which increases the risk of blood clotting and causes blood pressure to rise which further increases the risk of heart attacks and other related diseases.This also prevents oxygen and other nutrients reaching the extremities of your body, such as fingers and toes, which can cause the feet to swell, reduce healing and cause the muscles to become sore and cramp. Now the chemicals are in the circulatory system they can be taken up anywhere in the body, which will cause an increased risk of damage to all cells in the body.
Smoking & Adrenal Glands
Nicotine can bind to receptors in the adrenal medulla, which is located just above the kidneys. Here is causes an increase in adrenaline (epinephrine) into the body which will increase the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and stimulate glycogen stores to be broken down into glucose, which will increase blood sugar levels. These effects (combined with the negative effects on the circulatory system) will increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Nicotine & Your Brain
The brain fortunately has some protection from the chemicals in the blood in the form of the blood brain barrier, which prevents many chemical entering the brain. Nicotine is one of the chemicals which can cross the barrier, and it is nicotine’s action on the brain which is why people smoke. Nicotine increases the production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for the increasing the reward feelings in the brain such as relaxation and euphoria. Nicotine also inhibits the action of the enzymes which breakdown dopamine, which will further increase its levels and the feelings it induces.
Smoking causes an increase in the amount of radical damage to the whole body, but the majority of the damage smoking causes is to the lungs and circulatory system. Smoking increases the risk of developing a number of diseases from lung cancer to diabetes – both of which are on the rise in the UK and many western countries. Smoking is addictive because of nicotine’s action on the brain as it stimulates the rewards sections of the brain which induce euphoria and relaxation. There are healthier ways to stimulate these areas of the brain, and exercise has shown to stimulate them much more than smoking, and is a much healthier approach to feeling relaxed and euphoric.