We know that smoking is a leading cause of many dangerous diseases such as lung cancer, but do you know that smoking also has negative effects on the digestive system? Smoking has always been associated with lung cancer because it is a general misconception that air from smoking only enters the lungs. Like the air we breathe, smoke also enters the digestive tract; therefore, it is important to remember that the mouth is part of the digestive system. Food enters the stomach along with small amounts of air; this is why people often feel bloated after smoking a couple of cigarettes.
Efforts to raise consciousness about the negative effects of smoking on health have enjoyed some level of success in highly-industrialized countries. However, smoking in poor or developing countries seems to grow in scale with more and more incidents of smoking found in young people. Poor information and the government’s lack of resolve to stop the habit remains to be the culprit of why smoking has enjoyed its popularity in less-developed nations.
The Upper Digestive Tract
In order for us to better understand how and why smoking affects the digestive system, it is essential that we understand the basic mechanics of how it enters the system. Have you ever wondered why doctors slap the newborn baby? This is done not to punish the baby, but to induce breathing in the newborn. Newborns are mouth breathers; this means that they have not yet developed proper nose coordination for breathing.
The mouth not only serves as the main entry point of food but also as an entry point for air. The mouth is a vital part of both the respiratory and digestive system. This is the main entry point for food, and where air is introduced to the body.
The digestive tract starts from the mouth and terminates in the anus. The mouth and throat are both parts of the digestive and respiratory system. Both systems are interconnected by these parts. The epiglottis serves as a checkpoint for controlling the flow of food or air. But this structure is not entirely air tight; air also passes through to the stomach each time food is taken in.
The mouth, tongue and throat are parts of the digestive system particularly the upper digestive tract. The first stage of digestion happens in the mouth where food is physically broken down by the mouth’s chewing action. Food is also chemically broken down by the saliva and then passed to the stomach through the esophagus.
Smoking and it’s Effects on the Digestive system
Tar is a chemical product produced by smoking; it enters the lung when smoke is inhaled, but is also left as a residue in the mouth. Together with smoke which enters the digestive system, tar enters the digestive system, and this is the cause for many serious medical conditions.
- Cancers in the Digestive System (Mouth, Stomach, Rectal Cancers). Smoking is one of the major causative factors for cancer. Tar is a chemical byproduct of smoking and when exposed to body tissues may cause abnormal cell growth.
- Liver Diseases. The liver functions as a filter removing waste products from the body. Cigarettes don’t contain any nutrients which contribute to normal growth and development. In fact, cigarettes produce harmful chemicals which are dangerous to the body. Smoking cigarettes only increases the strain on the liver to eliminate these harmful chemicals.
- Peptic Ulcer. Smoke not only enters the lungs, but also the stomach. Smoke irritates the stomach and causes increased production of gastric acids. Constant exposure to great amounts of acids damages the stomach linings. Prolonged or chronic exposure to increased gastric acids causes peptic ulcers
- Crohn’s Disease. Researchers have still to determine the exact relationship between smoking and Crohn’s disease. But studies have shown that cases of Crohn’s disease increase with smokers as compared to those who don’t. Chemicals found in cigarettes may irritate the intestines and cause inflammation. Smoking also lowers the body’s immune system leaving the intestines susceptible to infection.
Why do people smoke?
People smoke because of many different reasons. Some people smoke because of the pleasure or comfort they get from smoking. But whether it is for comfort or relief from stress the effects of smoking are psychological.
Cigarettes contain nicotine which is highly addictive. It is similar to other drugs which affect normal brain function. Some people have been accustomed to smoking that its absence affects their emotional and physical functioning. Nicotine affects levels of dopamine and noradreneline, chemicals, which affects a person’s moods or emotions.
The effects of smoking are faster compared to other drugs. Nicotine contained in cigarettes is directly introduced to the blood or rushes quickly to the brain. This is why people find immediate relief from smoking after long periods of absence.
Simple ways for kicking this unhealthy habit
The first thing that a person must to is to realize that this habit is a problem. There is no use in quitting smoking if a person does not honestly believe that smoking poses a danger in his health. There are numerous ways of quitting this habit, and finding the best one is a case to case basis. It is important that a health professional identifies what and what does not work for a patient.
Cold turkey is sometimes not the best option, kicking the habit takes time and a lot of adjustment. There are some complications related with quitting smoking. These conditions are referred to as withdrawal symptoms. Smoking for some people has been a part of their life and is needed for normal body functioning. This is due to the fact that they have been addicted to nicotine that their body cannot normally function in the absence of the drug.
There are two major ways of kicking unhealthy habits. One way is to gradually reduce the number of cigarettes, and by using alternative ways of introducing nicotine in the body, such as nicotine patches. Studies have shown that a therapy using both methods is the best way for people to quit the habit. This could be done by using nicotine patches in conjunction with a conscious effort to reduce the number of cigarettes taken daily.
Smoking is not prohibited by law, but the law also respects the rights of non-smokers. That is why laws have been passed to reduce the exposure of those who wish not to smoke. Examples of these laws are those which prohibit smoking in public places. Second-hand smoke has been proven to be more dangerous than smoke directly introduced into the body. Smoking is a decision that is left to each and every individual, but after learning some of the negative effects that smoking does to the body, it is high time that smokers think seriously about what is best for them.
written by Ronald Uy, RN
© 2009 H.I.C. Digestive Health
Nicotine Addiction. Retrieved October 16, 2009 from the American Heart Association: http://www.americanheart.org
How to Quit Smoking…. And Keep Quit For Keeps. Retrieved October 16, 2009 from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service National Institutes of Health:
Smoking and the Digestive System. Retrieved October 16, 2009 from National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse (NDDIC): http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov