Holy smoke! The benefits of quitting smoking

GLENN ELLIS | 9/11/2017, 9:22 a.m.
Are you wondering why you’re still smoking cigarettes? You should be, unless you enjoy the taste of more than 7,000 ...
Cigarettes Stock Photo

Strategies for Well-Being

Are you wondering why you’re still smoking cigarettes? You should be, unless you enjoy the taste of more than 7,000 harmful chemicals entering your body with each puff. And of those 7,000 chemicals, 69 of them are carcinogenic – meaning they’re known to be cancer-causing.

But let’s be honest, you probably already knew that after being exposed to “No Smoking” ads everywhere you look. So I’ll save the lecture and show you exactly how your body begins to repair itself beginning as soon as 20 minutes after you quit.

While most people equate smoking deaths to cancer and lung disease, in fact, many more people will die from circulatory conditions from smoking than from cancer or other lung diseases. Also, in general, they will die at much younger ages from these problems. We would have many more lung cancer sufferers than we do if smokers could live long enough to get them. When many people with fatal heart attacks or strokes are autopsied, there are often precancerous lesions found that indicate that if these people had a few more years to live, they would have eventually succumbed to these smoking-induced diseases.

Two chemicals in cigarettes that stand out as the biggest problems are nicotine and carbon monoxide.

Nicotine, besides being addictive, has very powerful effects on arteries throughout the body. Nicotine is a stimulant, speeding up the heart by about 20 beats per minute with every cigarette. It raises blood pressure, is a vasoconstrictor – which means it makes arteries all over the body become smaller, making it harder for the heart to pump through the constricted arteries – and it causes the body to release its stores of fat and cholesterol into the blood.

The heart has to work harder to overcome all of these effects. To work harder, the heart, like every other muscle in the body, needs extra amounts of oxygen for the additional workload. The oxygen has to be transported through the blood. But carbon monoxide from tobacco smoke literally poisons the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. So this results in the heart having to work harder to get more blood to itself to work harder, because it’s working harder. A vicious and deadly circle, when it comes down to it.

Another major effect of smoking is that it causes the blood to thicken, or lose its viscosity.

Blood viscosity is a measure of how “thick” and “sticky” a person’s blood is. By determining the viscosity, doctors could tell how smoothly or how sluggish the blood flows through the blood vessels, the degree to which the heart must work and even the quantity of oxygen that could be delivered to the tissues and organs.

In other words, if the blood is more viscous (thicker and sticky), the heart must work harder to move the blood around the body. The chance is also high for development atherosclerosis, or the clogging of the arteries, as well as formation of clots. A clot could travel through the blood vessels and sometimes gets lodged in the narrow part of the artery. This blockade could lead to various cardiovascular ailments – including heart attack and stroke – causing paralysis or even death.