Many people think giving up tobacco is a way to lower their risk for cancer. And, that is absolutely true. But, many don’t think about tobacco’s other tolls. Tobacco — be it smoked, chewed or brought into the body in any form — damages your whole body. Within a year of giving up tobacco, your risk for heart disease drops by half. Tobacco clogs your arteries. However, two to three weeks after you quit your blood flow improves.
Nicotine causes blood vessels to narrow elevating both your blood pressure and heart rate. Smoking causes platelets to clump in your blood, making it harder for your blood to pump through your blood vessels. Cigarettes raise your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and decrease your “good” cholesterol, HDL. This, in turn, increases your risk for both strokes and heart attacks.
A compound in tobacco smoke, acrolein, enter your blood through your lungs and impacts how the body metabolizes cholesterol. Acrolein damages HDL, lessening HDL’s ability to clear LDL from the bloodstream. Additionally, acrolein damages LDL to the point within the immune system doesn’t recognize what it is and sends white blood cells to attack it. The reaction causes more buildup at the site and inflammation.
Even if you have heart disease, or have had a heart attack, it’s still beneficial to quit smoking — you haven’t forsaken the health benefits. Stopping after a heart attack lowers the risk of having a second by half. Research compiled from 45 studies showed that, “Despite considerable between-study variation in design, methods and populations, and many studies involving few subjects, the data — with few exceptions — show that HDL-C increases following quitting.” Regardless of how long you have smoked, or how your health is, giving up tobacco is beneficial.
If you are a smoker — with or without cholesterol concerns — speak to your doctor about quitting. Your doctor can advise you on what method of cessation might be best for you. Your heart, lungs and whole body will thank you!