A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that smoking shortens life expectancy by more than a decade, with women losing approximately 11 years and men losing a dozen. The researchers call smoking the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and believe education is the key to stop people from letting their lives go up in cigarette smoke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that cigarette smoking causes more than 443,000 premature deaths in the United States every year, which represents 20 percent of all deaths. The tobacco habit accounts for a third of all cancers and is responsible for 9 out of 10 lung cancer diagnoses. Every drag off that cigarette promotes lung disease and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Other research suggests that smoking may also increase the risk of developing sciatica and back pain. A study published in the Journal of Pain suggested daily smokers were 104 percent more likely than non-smokers to develop chronic pain. Occasional smokers were 68 percent more likely to suffer from persistent conditions, and former smokers were 20 percent more likely to experience chronic pain than those who had never smoked.
What is Nicotine?
The main culprit in making it so hard to kick the habit is nicotine, a naturally-occurring chemical found in various types of plants, including tobacco. Nicotine is an alkaloid, meaning it contains nitrogen. It is also considered a drug because of its physiological effects on the body. Nicotine can be readily absorbed through the skin when applied topically and through the mucous membranes in the nose, mouth, and lungs when inhaled. While cigars and pipe tobacco have just as much nicotine as cigarettes, those smokers do not inhale, so their life expectancy is impacted less than cigarettes users’.
But while nicotine can be poisonous if ingested in high enough doses — it used to be a popular insecticide — it is not inherently deadly. It is the other chemicals in tobacco smoke, such as formaldehyde, cyanide, and ammonia that ultimately cause cancer. But nicotine is the ultimate enabler and keeps smokers coming back cigarette after cigarette, shortening their life expectancy with every puff.
Nicotine reaches the brain within just 10 seconds of inhalation, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, heart muscle oxygen consumption rate, and heart stroke volume by stimulating the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine, better known as adrenaline. In other words, it gives smokers a rush. Nicotine also increases levels of the hormone dopamine, a neurotransmitter that can cause increased alertness, a feeling of euphoria, and a sense of relaxation. Research suggests that other compounds found in tobacco smoke might increase nicotine’s effects on the brain.
The physical rush provided by nicotine makes it highly addictive; the American Heart Association puts nicotine’s siren song on par with heroin. That additive quality is why people will go through several packs a day and continue to smoke despite knowing and fretting over the fact that they are shortening their life expectancy and exposing themselves to a host of respiratory and circulatory illnesses and conditions. It is also why it is physically so difficult to stop. It is estimated that around 35 million people try to stop smoking every year. More than 93 percent of those will resume smoking within the year.
Kicking the habit is emotionally and physically challenging. Just like a heroin or methamphetamine addict, smokers suffer withdrawal symptoms that can include anxiety, depression, moodiness, irritability, weight gain, attention difficulties, and painful cravings for tobacco.
This is where chiropractic care can help. Adjustments have wellness value far beyond getting the kinks out or helping ease back pain. Research shows that patients who engage in stop-smoking programs with their chiropractor report a significantly better chance of success.
As mentioned, nicotine is a drug, and when you stop smoking, your body goes through withdrawal, which is physically and emotionally stressful. The desire to ease that anxiety and stress is what makes it so tempting to just keep smoking. Chiropractic care can help ease physical tension and emotional stress, tools that will help you fight the nicotine urge. It is recommended to get several treatments a week during the first weeks of stopping, then taper off as the craving for nicotine eases.
The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine makes it clear the effort to quit is worth the discomfort. A 40-year-old who quits reduces the excess risk of death by about 90 percent. Within just one day of quitting, heart rate and blood pressure drop, and the blood’s carbon monoxide level drops to normal. The research is clear: the sooner you stop, the more minutes, days, and years you are potentially adding to your life.