What Does Cigarette Smoking Really Do to Your Immune System?
Smoking cessation is a difficult topic, for short and long-term smokers. If it was as easy as simply deciding to stop, many smokers agree that they would quit right away. While the way that society views smoking has changed dramatically (in a good way) to discourage the use of tobacco due to health concerns, 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that 17 out of every 100 adult American men smoke. For women, the rate is 13 out of every 100 adults.
A diagnosis of cancer is frightening, but knowing that cigarette smoking has a broader, even more damaging impact on immunity, injury recovery and organ function is an important part of encouraging someone (and supporting them) during smoking cessation attempts. We share some hard facts about cigarette smoking, and explain why they offer persuasive evidence to quit smoking for better health and longevity.
Cancer and Tobacco Products: More Than a Probable Link
When health impacts of cigarette smoking are discussed, much attention is paid to the risk of lung cancer. Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer in the United States, and is linked to more than 80% of diagnosed cases of the disease annually. Individuals who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer, than individuals who do not smoke. Other less known types of cancer are accelerated in terms of diagnosis rates, for tobacco users. While cigarettes can cause cancer in any place in the body, it is known to be correlated strongly to serious cancers of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas (exacerbating problems for diabetics), trachea, kidney and larynx.
Individuals who smoke and then quit, substantially reduce their risk of contracting cancer after being ‘smoke free’ for five years or more. However, retired smokers do retain an elevated risk of developing cancer, when compared to an individual who never smoked. The longer the duration of regular, daily smoking (and periodic social smoking) the greater the risk factor for cancer becomes.
How Smoking Impairs the Immune System
When smokers inhale cigarettes, not only does it leave a tar residue on the respiratory system that makes breathing more difficult, the heat of the smoke also burns off important microscopic hairs on the inside of the esophagus and trachea, called cilia. Less than 1/100th of a mm in length, the cilia are responsible for moving phlegm up and out of your lungs. Cigarette smokers experience problems with respiratory infections, as the vehicle for removing excess fluid from airways is reduced, or absent. Cilia in the airways of the body are effectively ‘burnt off’ by cigarette smoke. This can complicate conditions like bronchitis or pneumonia.
Did you know that the chemicals in an average cigarette, also directly damages the antibodies in the blood stream? These antibodies are a critical function of the immune system, and help protect against severe infections, and heal after athletic injuries, or surgical procedures. Smoking also leeches out essential vitamins like vitamin C, an important nutrient that helps the body kill free radicals, a cellular oxidation process that can turn healthy cells into cancer.
Because the immune system recognizes that the chemicals inhaled through smoking are toxic, and harmful, autoimmune responses and inflammation can occur for cigarette smokers, where the immune system is effectively attacking some of the body’s own cells. Wounds and injuries heal more slowly than a non-smoker, and the immune suppressing effect is a major contributor to life threatening conditions like lung disease.
How Can Smokers Start to Improve Their Health Today?
- Eat healthy and remember to take daily supplements recommended by your physician, to help restore lost minerals and essential nutrients impacted by nicotine use.
- Reduce exposures to regions or other individuals who have an infectious disease. Respiratory diseases are particularly difficult for smokers, and dangerous.
- Go outside regularly and get your dose of vitamin D. Aim for at least 15 minutes of sunlight per day to maintain healthy vitamin D levels, and ensure your multivitamin supplements this important nutrient. Outdoor exercise will also help improve oxygenation in the blood stream and improve cardiovascular health.
Permanent cessation of tobacco products and cigarettes is the best way to lower all the risks and health impacts of smoking. Talk to your doctor about cessation products, prescriptions and holistic resources that can be used to break the habit for good.