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Smoking Dependency

Effects, Nutrition/Diet, Herbs, Vitamins/Supplements

Every time a person smokes, he or she inhales over 4,000 different chemicals, including nicotine.  Nicotine, which is extremely addictive, increases levels of the pleasure-inducing brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  Tobacco has been used as a mood-altering substance for centuries.  It has been ingested by various means, including chewing, sniffing, and smoking.  Today it is most commonly consumed by smoking cigarettes.

Nicotine acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system; when nicotine is ingested, adrenaline production increases, raising the blood pressure and heart rate.  Nicotine also affects the overall metabolic rate, the regulation of body temperature, the degree of tension in the muscles, and the levels of certain hormones.  These and other metabolic changes create a pleasurable sensation in the user that often - and paradoxically - is experienced as a feeling of relaxation.  This pleasurable sensation is one of the factors that makes tobacco so addictive.  Another is the fact that tolerance to the effects of nicotine develops quite rapidly.  That is, the dose needed to achieve the desired effect begins to rise almost immediately, encouraging you to increase the amount you smoke - which in turn increases the likelihood of addiction.  Once you become addicted, your body depends on the presence of nicotine.  If you then refrain from smoking, withdrawal symptoms occur.  These include irritability, frustration, anger, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, increased appetite, headache, stomach cramps, a slowed heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, and most of all, an intense craving for nicotine.

Once the smoking habit has been acquired, it is difficult to break.  Some authorities have stated that addiction to tobacco may be harder to overcome than addiction to heroin or cocaine.  This is because smoking creates both physical and psychological dependency.  It may be easier to overcome the physical addiction than the psychological dependency.  Acute physical withdrawal, while unpleasant, lasts for a limited period of time, usually no more than several weeks.  Long-term cravings are more likely a matter of psychological dependency, and require an ongoing effort to master.  By the time an individual has become addicted to nicotine, the act of smoking itself has become a source of pleasure, and it may be so intertwined in your mind with other activities - having your morning coffee, reading the newspaper, working, socializing, whatever - that you find yourself unable to imagine engaging in these activities  without a cigarette in hand.  In addition, smoking provides a convenient excuse for taking a momentary break, especially during times of stress, and may help to smooth over awkward moments.  Many smokers also are afraid of what might happen if they stopped; they fear withdrawal symptoms, weight gain, or a decreased ability to concentrate.  All of these factors combine to make quitting difficult.

Even though it can be difficult to stop smoking, many people do it every day.  There is certainly no shortage of reasons to quit.  Cigarettes are a factor in approximately 17 percent of all deaths in the United States annually - that's 350,000 to 400,000 people a year.  This is more than the number of deaths from alcohol, illegal drugs, traffic accidents, suicide, and homicide combined.  Tobacco smoking causes an estimated 33 percent of all cancer deaths, 25 percent of fatal heart heart attacks, and 85 percent of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  I accounts for at least 85 percent of lung cancer cases.  Many other health problems have been linked to smoking as well, including angina, arteriosclerosis, cataracts, chronic bronchitis, circulatory ailments, colorectal cancer, diarrhea, emphysema, heartburn, high blood pressure, impotence, peptic ulcers, respiratory ailments, urinary incontinence, and cancers of the mouth and throat, especially among cigarette smokers who also consume alcohol and/or use mouthwash containing alcohol.  Smoking increases the risk of catching colds and lengthens recovery time.  Tobacco smoke paralyzes the cilia (hairlike protrusions lining the nose and throat), reducing their capacity to clear the passages by moving mucus - and the cold viruses trapped within it - to the outside.

Nicotine has long been known to be a deadly toxin.  A single pinhead-sized drop of liquid nicotine, introduced directly into the bloodstream, would be fatal.  At the doses normally ingested by smokers, nicotine makes the heart pump faster and work harder, increasing the likelihood of hart disease.  It also constricts the peripheral blood vessels, contributing to circulatory disorders such as Raynaud's phenomenon and hardening of the arteries.  And nicotine is not the only ingredient in cigarettes that poses a danger to health.  In all, over 4,000 chemical substances have been identified as constituents of cigarette smoke, and at least 43 of these substances are known to cause cancer in humans.  Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, benzene, cyanide, ammonia, nitrosamines, vinyl chloride, radioactive particles, and other known irritants and carcinogens.  Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin, interfering with the transport of oxygen throughout the body.  Carbon monoxide also promotes the development of cholesterol deposits on artery walls.  These two factors increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.  Hydrogen cyanide causes bronchitis by inflaming the lining of the bronchi.  Over the long term, smoking dramatically reduces flow of blood to the brain.  Men who have smoked for years are more likely to have abnormally low penile blood pressure, which contributes to impotence.  This is probably because smoking damages the blood vessels, including the tine blood vessels that supply the penis.  It also contributes to sterility; the sperm of men who smoke have less ability than that of nonsmokers to penetrate, and thus to fertilize, an egg.

Female cigarette smokers tend to experience menopause earlier, face a greater risk of osteoporosis after menopause, and have a much higher risk of developing cervical or uterine cancer.  They also appear less fertile and have more difficulties during pregnancy.  Smokers tend to have more miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature deliveries.  Their babies often are smaller and have more health problems than babies of nonsmokers.  Infants whose mothers smoke both during pregnancy and after childbirth appear to be three times as likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as infants of nonsmokers.

Children whose father smoke also face an increase in health problems.  Children of make smokers have been shown to be at a higher than normal risk of developing brain cancer and leukemia.

Smoking has a detrimental effect on nutrition.  Smokers break down vitamin C about twice as fast as nonsmokers.  This can deprive the body of adequate amounts of one of the most powerful and versatile antioxidants at our disposal.  Other antioxidant vitamins are depleted as well.  Cigarette smoke contains high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide ozone, a compound that oxidizes the antioxidant vitamins and is also known to do damage to DNA.  The accelerated antioxidant usage, in combination with the DNA damage, speeds the aging process.

Finally, smoking is increasingly a social problem.  More and more nonsmokers are becoming concerned about the effects of "secondhand" smoke on their own health, and justifiably so.  There is a growing body of evidence that secondhand smoke may be even more dangerous than the smoke the smoker breathes.  Smoking is now prohibited in many workplaces and public buildings.

The dangers of smoking are well known today, yet people continue to smoke.  Why?  Some people start smoking before the hazards were widely known; others start in adolescence, when people generally feel invulnerable and are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior - especially if it seems "adult," helps them fit in with a particular social group, and/or provokes their parents.  However, surveys consistently show that no matter when or why they started, most current smokers do not smoke because they want to (well over 50 percent say they wish they had never started), but because they are addicted.

The good news is that this addiction can be overcome, and that health benefits begin almost immediately.  In just twenty-four hours after your last cigarette, your blood pressure and pulse rate should return to normal, as should the levels of oxygen and carbon monoxide in your blood.  Within a week, your risk of heart attack begins to decrease, your senses of smell and taste improve, and breathing become easier.

The nutrients and dietary suggestions are recommended to correct probably smoking-related deficiencies and damage while you work to kick the habit.  They are recommended also if you cannot avoid being a passive smoker.


Source:  Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC and James F. Balch, M.D.

Smoking Dependency

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