From bone loss to impotence, count the ways tobacco is bad for your body.
Lung cancer and heart disease are known to be the lethal results of smoking. But a mountain of research is also proving that, well before serious disease strikes, tobacco is regularly compromising your health in ways you might not imagine.
"A lot of people don't realize that the ill effects of smoking aren't just to the heart and lungs," says Dr. Stephen Conrad, a California, US orthopaedic surgeon who has reviewed more than 100 studies of how tobacco damages the body. "Every tissue in the body is affected by the oxygen deprivation, which is the end result of smoking."
Increased bone loss, higher injury rates, longer times for wounds to heal, even impotence have all been traced to the effects of nicotine on the body, according to Conrad and a number of recent studies.
"I thought, 'Why haven't we figured this out before?' " Oregon orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Miguel Schmitz says, after finding that leg fractures took 70 percent longer to heal in smokers than in non-smokers.
In his study of 60 patients with fractures, he found the average time for clinical healing for smokers was 276 days compared to 152 days for non-smokers. That's a difference he calls remarkable.
"I would hypothesise that blood flow to the bone is sluggish and that nutrients and oxygen are not fed to the bone in an expedient fashion," he says.
"Nicotine is a very powerful constrictor . . . and decreases the flow of blood to the periphery of the body," Conrad agrees. "It has been measured and found that there is a 29 percent blood-flow decrease to the thumb after smoking two cigarettes."
Starving for oxygen
The decrease in blood flowing through the body means there is less oxygen going to its tissues, and oxygen is key for maintaining body health, Conrad says. Worsening the situation is the carbon monoxide that is inhaled from burning cigarette papers.
The carbon monoxide replaces oxygen that's supposed to be plentiful in red blood cells. "Tissues don't get enough oxygen as they would ordinarily," Conrad says, "and muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones are all weakened over time."
And that time may be shorter that you think.
"At least some of the detrimental effects of cigarette smoking may occur at an early age and have immediate consequences," says Dr. John W. Gardner, co-author of a study that found young Army recruits who smoked had a higher rate of injury during basic training.
Gardener found that of approximately 2,000 male and female recruits, smokers were 1.5 times more likely to be injured during the eight-week basic training than non-smokers. Smokers suffered more than double the number of ankle sprains and muscle stresses than non-smokers.
Untimely bone loss seems to be another consequence of cigarette smoking.
Conrad reports that non-smoking women at age 65 have an average bone loss of 33.5 percent, while women of the same age who have smoked for five years or more suffer a loss of bone density at a rate from 40 percent to 60 percent.
In addition, a study found in a three-year review that older men and women smokers were losing three-quarters of a percent more bone mass per year than non-smokers.
"This is significant," because loss of bone mass increases with each year of smoking. "A 10 percent change in bone mass is enough to double the fracture risk."
The threat of impotence
Even sexual satisfaction apparently can be compromised by nicotine use. A recent study found that a group of more than 500 male smokers between the ages of 40 and 70 had a 24 percent rate of impotence, compared to 14 percent for non-smokers. In smokers also exposed to passive smoke, the impotence rate rose to 33 percent.
The penis needs about an eight-fold increase in blood to become engorged for an erection, which is the equivalent of the amount of blood used in heavy exercise. So when the arteries are constricted because of nicotine in the blood, it is suggested that "the blood can't flow fast enough to build up."
Heart And Lungs
All these studies do not take away from smoking's devastating effects on the heart and lungs, and the chilling statistics to prove that:
- Smoking is the major cause of coronary heart disease;
- The American Lung Association reports that 157,00 people will die this year from lung cancer, 80 percent of which was caused by smoking;
- Passive smoke is estimated to cause almost 40,000 deaths annually from heart and blood disease and 3,000 deaths from lung cancer.
"Heart and lung disease and cancer are life-threatening," Conrad says. "These other effects are not really life-threatening. They are more quality-of-life issues."
But, he adds, even though something like bone loss doesn't mean the difference between life and death, it still affects your ability to live life fully.
"I want people to be informed about smoking problems before they decide whether they're going to smoke," Conrad says.
"Every physician realises this," he adds, noting he has presented his smoking data to a number of physicians' groups. "Physicians were big smokers - they were used in ads to promote Lucky Strike cigarettes. But you won't find many doctors who smoke anymore."
(Need some cheering up? Read the yourhealth.co.za article: Single? It might be that Cigarette. You'll enjoy a good giggle!)