red head covering mouth

We all know that smoking is bad for us. After all, each puff makes us more tolerant of our average pack per day. The result? We end up being bippity boppity booed into a walking chimney, spewing 7,000 chemicals and 599 poisons. That’s probably the reason that 70% of us want to quit.

Kicking that butt is hard, though. Good ol’ nicotine packs a bigger punch than cocaine, viagra, heroin, alcohol, or morphine.  The reason? It bathes our brains’ reward centers with adrenaline and dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitter. It also dials down our “pacemaker” neurons, cranking our brains into overdrive, which increases our productivity.

Lung cancer, bronchitis, emphysema: lifetime smokers only have a one in seven chance of getting them. But, what if we told you that cigarettes have bigger, even more dangerous, effects on your body? Need a smoking gun? (Pun intended.)  Here are six ways that cigarettes are destroying your health.

 

1. Smoking alters your DNA.

Smoking leaves its “footprint” on your DNA, according to a new study in the journal of Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of DNA methylation sites across the human genome by taking blood samples from nearly 16,000 participants. The findings? A third of our genome is controlled by DNA methylation.  Think of it as your DNA’s off-on switch. Smoking flips that switch and triggers heart disease and cancers. The good news? After five years, participants that quit smoking had DNA methylation levels similar to never smokers.

2. Smoking slows down your ticker.

Cigarettes make your heart work harder. That’s the reason that smokers are four times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack. Smoking lowers your good cholesterol, raises your blood pressure, tightens your major arteries,  and causes your heart to beat irregularly, according to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. Here’s how: poisons, such as tar and carbon monoxide, clog your arteries with fatty plaque while your fibrinogen, a blood clotting material, increases. ”

3. Smoking makes your bones brittle.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology claims that cigarette smoke lowers the vitamin D—”the sunshine vitamin” that thickens bones and reduces inflammation—in your nasal cells. Smoking also lowers estrogen levels in both sexes. That’s bad because estrogen binds calcium and other minerals to your bones. It’s even worse news for women in their 50s and 60s. Six months after a woman hits menopause, around age 50, her estrogen level plummets, resulting in vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and porous bones. Another downside of smoking? To store calcium in your bones, you need to exercise. But, smokers, especially after age 30, tend to hit the gym less often than non-smokers, so they lose their bone mass 1.5 to 2 times faster.

4. Smoking can make you go blind.

Ready for this eye opener? Smoking is the number one cause of blindness, or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), in people over 50. That’s because the chemicals in cigarettes damage blood vessels in the macula, a quarter of an inch area that’s slap-dab in the middle of your retina that catches light and passes it to the brain. Research also shows that smokers are three times more likely to develop AMD, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Dry eye? It’s the result of tobacco smoke breaking down the fat layer of your tear film, says a 2005 Banskent University study.

5. Smoking leads to premature aging.

Smoking reduces the oxygen in your skin, which decreases your blood’s circulation, resulting in wrinkled, weathered, dull-looking skin that makes you look like the Crypt Keeper. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, smokers tend to have more wrinkles around their mouths. They also have baggy eyelids and jowls. Wonder what you’d look like if you continued to light up? See your shocking transformation here.

6. Smoking ruins your teeth.

Smoke alert! Cigarettes not only kill the good bacteria in your mouth causing bad breath, halitosis, they coat your teeth with tar, giving them a yellowish tinge that’s hard to remove with toothpaste. According to a turn of the century study in the Journal of Periodontology, smokers are also three times more likely to develop receded gums with sensitive teeth or exposed nerves. Moreover, cigarettes slow down the blood flow to the gums. This creates an unpredictable healing process.

 

Inspired to quit? Sometimes, it takes a village. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Operated by the National Cancer Institute, this toll-free number provides free or discounted medications, self-help materials, and counseling in all 50 states.