DEAR DR. BLONZ: I know smoking is bad for me, but feel that my addiction will continue to get the best of me. Coughing is a concern, as is dry skin. Are there any foods that might be of assistance? -- D.S., Chicago
DEAR D.S.: Cigarette smoke is nasty stuff that affects all parts of the body. On the outside, smoke enables a dramatic, premature aging of the skin. On the inside, even more goes wrong.
Our lungs normally secrete mucus to entrap dust and other inhaled particles. A healthy lung shuttles this material out through a series of cilia, or hairs. But tobacco smoke causes a breakdown in this self-cleaning system. Mucus then collects in the lungs, resulting in that hacking “smoker’s cough.” Smoking is also a leading cause of emphysema, a condition where the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs become damaged, resulting in shortness of breath and labored breathing.
Foods are an important consideration, given that smoke is a carcinogen and an oxidizing agent. A well-nourished body should have a daily supply of antioxidant nutrients from whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and grains. They each do different things, but together they produce a powerful synergy. Don’t rely on dietary supplements; a focus on whole foods is the ticket. And while foods can help, they cannot make us invincible. Long-term exposure to a cancer risk factor, such as tobacco, is going to take its toll, regardless of what foods we eat. But your body will work to make things better, starting immediately after your last cigarette. Here’s what you can expect:
Twenty minutes after your last smoke, your blood pressure and pulse rate both drop, and the temperature of your hands and feet increases.
After eight hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood has dropped, and the oxygen level in your blood is returning to normal.
After 24 hours, there has been a decrease in the chance of a heart attack.
After 48 hours, the nerve endings have started to regrow, and you will experience an increased ability to taste and smell.
After 72 hours, the bronchial tubes will relax, and there will be an increase in lung capacity.
From two weeks to three months, there will be improvements in your circulation, and your lungs will function approximately 30 percent more effectively.
From one to nine months after quitting, the hairlike cilia in your lungs will have regrown, increasing your ability to clear normal mucus and unwanted substances from the lungs. There will be decreases in coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath. Your overall energy level will likely have increased.
After a year, the high risk for heart attack associated with smoking will be cut in half.
After five years, the risk of dying of lung cancer will have decreased by almost one-half.
After 10 years, your risk of dying of lung cancer will be about the same as a nonsmoker.
From five to 15 years, the risk of stroke will have decreased to that of a nonsmoker, and the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat or esophagus will have been reduced to half that of a current smoker.
Fifteen years after that last cigarette, your risk of lung cancer, risk of heart disease and life expectancy are no longer significantly different from an individual who had never smoked.
If you have an ulcer, by quitting smoking you will reduce recurrence and improve healing. If you have diabetes, quitting smoking slows the type of small blood vessel damage associated with eye and kidney disease and amputation. If you have Type 1 diabetes, quitting can decrease your need for insulin.
Other benefits: You won’t have to constantly interrupt your life to go outside and smoke. You’ll smell better, get fewer colds and respiratory infections and save lots of money. Others won’t have to breathe your smoke. And perhaps most importantly, you’ll be setting a life-affirming example for yourself, your children and the rest of your family and friends.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.