How Smoking Affects the Immune System
The negative effects of smoking are well documented, with medical researchers all agreeing that tobacco products are bad news when it comes to overall health. Heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, stroke – these are just a few of the conditions linked to tobacco use.
There are other health consequences to smoking that you may not equate with using tobacco products. While having a heart attack or being diagnosed with lung cancer are obvious consequences of smoking that would immediately get your attention, there are more subtle health issues that may already be manifesting themselves in your everyday life.
Smoking and the Immune System
That cold you just can’t seem to shake might actually be hanging around due to your smoking habit. Not only does smoking cause serious health conditions like cancer, but it also lessens your body’s immune response, making you more susceptible to infections. You may also find it harder to shake everyday illnesses that are no big deal to most healthy adults. Tobacco products damage virtually every system of the body, and the immune system is no different.
Ways Smoking Affects the Immune System
Smoking may negatively affect the immune system in a variety of ways:
Higher risk of respiratory infections: It’s no surprise that smoking increases one’s risk of developing respiratory illnesses, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, according to Better Health Channel. This is due to tobacco smoke’s immune suppressing effects, as well as smoke entering and damaging delicate lung tissues.
More frequent infections and prolonged illness: Smoking damages and destroys antibodies in the blood stream. Antibodies normally help fight off infectious illnesses, but since smokers have fewer of these antibodies available, they may experience more severe infections and they may remain sick longer than non-smokers. Wounds and sports-related injuries also take longer to heal for smokers than for non-smokers.
Fewer available antioxidants: Smoking destroys antioxidants in the body, such as vitamin C. Antioxidants help kill free radicals, or cells responsible for causing cancer.
Autoimmunity: According to Livestrong, and the University of Cincinnati, smoking not only weakens immune response when it comes to fighting off infections. It may also turn the immune system against the body’s own cells. Some smokers which experience severe or chronic lung disease may be suffering from an autoimmune response, meaning their immune systems are attacking lung tissue.
Preventing Immune System Disorders
Despite the risks, there are things smokers can do to reduce the risk of these negative outcomes.
Eat right: Eating a healthy diet to replenish lost vitamins and minerals may help keep you healthy
Exercise: Exercising improves oxygenation of the bloodstream and benefits cardiovascular function, both of which keep the immune system stronger
Get outdoors: Vitamin D helps boost immune function, and getting 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight per day helps the body create its own stores of this vitamin.
Supplement: In some cases, supplementation with vitamin C and other immune boosting vitamins may be beneficial.
Avoid exposures: Stay away from areas where infectious disease are known to spread as much as possible, especially during outbreaks. If you know someone who has been sick, avoid that person until they are no longer contagious if possible.
Quit: This is the best way to improve immune function. Quitting is now more possible than ever with smoking cessation aids being available to those who want to stop smoking for good. Luckily, the body’s immune function will begin to improve right away after quitting.