Thursday, June 30, 2011

Smoking and Heart Disease

Expensive cigarette surrogate used to give up ...Image via Wikipedia
We've known for decades that cigarette smoking is lethal.  Posters, billboards, cigarette pack warnings all underscore the fact that cigarette and use of tobacco products leads to heart disease.  Yet, people still smoke.

I thought it would be interesting to delve into the science behind how cigarette smoking and nicotine causes heart damage since about 20% of all deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to smoking.

This article will investigate how smoking and nicotine damages the heart.

The dangers of cigarette smoking

The risk of heart disease increases with the number of cigarettes smoked and the length of time that the individual smokes. The reason is that smoking contributes to coronary heart disease. (The coronary arteries deliver oxygen rich blood to the heart muscle).

Smokers who smoke two packs per day have a greater than two times risk of heart disease.  Women who smoke and take birth control have a greater than two times risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

How does nicotine and how does it affect the heart?

Nicotine is a highly addictive naturally occurring substance in the tobacco leaf plant.  It is a pale, oily yellow substance that turns brown when exposed to air. It is also poisonous.  The approximate amount to kill a human is 60 mg.  The average cigarette contains 2 mg. Nicotine is also one of the main ingredients in cigarette smoke along with hundreds of other poisonous substances.

Once nicotine is introduced into the bloodstream it wreaks havoc on the cardiovascular system in three primary ways:

1. It causes constriction of blood vessels, which raises the blood pressure and heart rate. Combine this with obesity and poor dietary and lifestyle habits and you have a really deadly mix.
2. It decreases the amount of oxygen carrying blood going to the heart muscle itself.
3. Reduces the amount of oxygen the heart carries due to the carbon monoxide.  Carbon monoxide also encourages fatty build-up in the heart which  narrows the blood vessel decreasing the amount of blood flow.  This also raises the risk of lethal blood clots.

It further crosses the blood brain barrier which causes physiological changes in the brain imitating neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine which also contributes to addiction.

The bottom line

Cigarette smoking and tobacco use is lethal.  For this reason the FDA has taken bold new steps to make the public stop and think before picking up another tobacco product.

Starting in September 1012 the FDA has mandates the use of highly graphic images on cigarette packs to deter youngsters from picking up the habit and to stop a  established smokers. Hopefully these steps will further slow down the incidence of smoking among Americans of all ages.

Sources:"Nicotine Addiction"

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