Smoking poses a danger to nearly every organ in the body and is a risk factor for many serious diseases, including different types of cancers and lung disease. Smoking is also a major risk factor for heart disease. According to some statistics, smokers are two to six times greater risk for heart attacks than non-smokers. One reason smoking is so strongly tied to heart disease is because it increases the level of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and decreases the level of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) in the body. The buildup of bad cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries, one of the major causes of heart attacks.
Smoking for even a short amount of time increases blood pressure. This elevated blood pressure increases the level of LDL cholesterol. However, once a person quits smoking, the level of HDL cholesterol increases. Since HDL cholesterol helps carry excess bad cholesterol away from the body into the liver for excretion, higher levels of HDL can lower the overall level of cholesterol in the body.
Smoking also causes blood to thicken due to the amount of nicotine and other chemicals that accumulate. The excess buildup causes blood to clot more easily, making it more difficult for it to flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow to the heart can greatly increase the risk of a heart attack.
Another dangerous effect of smoking on the body is caused by carbon monoxide found in cigarette smoke. Carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen in the body and also reduces the ability of the blood vessels to carry oxygen to the heart, brain and other vital organs. This diminished oxygen-carrying capacity exacerbates the effects caused by the buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels, which further increases the risk of a heart attack or heart disease.
Because of the pervasive effects smoking can have on the body, experts across the board strongly encourage smokers to quit. Research indicates that one year after quitting, the excess risk of coronary artery disease is cut in half. There are also studies that examined the direct relationship between cholesterol levels and smoking. These studies have shown that people who stopped smoking had higher levels of HDL cholesterol in the body not long after quitting. Within a year, HDL levels in some people have returned to levels identical to those of non-smokers.
It is not easy to stop smoking. Smoking is a nicotine addiction, and quitting can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression and weight gain. There are a number of methods available to help people quit. Nicotine replacement products are a popular option. There are also medications that help ease withdrawal symptoms and also reduce the urge to smoke. Alternative methods include hypnosis, acupuncture and acupressure, but studies have not shown them to be effective.