Smoking is a bad habit – that has been well-established. When looking at what smoking does to the body, most people focus on the lungs. Once you pull in the smoke, it goes through your lungs. The chemicals and even poisons found in the cigarette then enter your lungs and ultimately ends up in your blood. Cancer is certainly a major adverse effect of smoking, but there are other areas that are also affected by cigarettes and tobacco products.
According to the CDC (1), about 14% of adults in the US smoked cigarettes in 2018. This brings the estimated total cigarette smokers of legal age in the country to around 34.2 million. About half of these people are living with a disease related to smoking.
You may not realize this, but smoking might actually affect your weight too. We dive deeper into this topic. You’ll find out how smoking affects your weight, and why it should not be considered a weight-loss tool.
How Smoking Affects Your Weight
Some people start to smoke, and suddenly they start to lose weight. Another person would have the complete opposite effect, especially if they have been smoking for several years.
Usually, when we look at weight management, we consider calories. You would consider how many calories you eat per day. This number is then compared to the number of calories you burn each day. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, then it results in weight loss. The opposite will cause weight gain.
While this is the general rule of weight management, there are other factors that can also play a role in weight and fat distribution.
Smoking may be one of the most overlooked factors. When you are a smoker, you may find certain alterations in your weight. The specific alterations seem to depend on how much you smoke, according to recent studies.
There are different ways in which smoking can affect your body weight. We need to consider all the potential effects to shed more light on this particular topic.
To get more insight into this matter, it is a good idea to consider a study conducted on the subject.
Altered Fat Distribution
In 2008, a study (2) on the effects of smoking on body weight was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study focuses on identifying the effects of smoking on three specific aspects:
- Fat distribution
- Insulin resistance
Some evidence was already published prior to this study. Researchers focused on gaining more accurate information. The idea was to evaluate the effects closely and see how it may relate to insulin sensitivity in the body as well.
Researchers explain that prior findings have established the following facts:
- People who have recently started smoking tend to have a lower average body weight when compared to people who do not smoke.
- People who have recently given up on smoking have a tendency to gain weight quickly during the initial period.
While there were initial decreases in body weight among new smokers, the effect does not seem to last for a long time. Among people who have been smoking for some time, the effects were no longer present.
The study showed that there is often a range of risky behaviors among people who are heavy smokers, as well as those who have smoked for several years. This tends to include a sedentary lifestyle, which means the person does not get enough exercise. Additionally, unhealthy dieting habits are often also observed among these individuals.
With this in mind, further investigation found the following effects in heavy smoker:
- There tends to be an increase in fat accumulation within the abdominal region. Several studies have shown that abdominal fat, or tummy fat, is the most dangerous type to collect in the body. One study (3) shows that an increase in abdominal fat increases the risk for cardiovascular disease. Fat in this region also contributes to a higher chance of developing conditions like diabetes.
- Among the individuals who were heavy smokers, there was a significant increase in resistance to insulin. This particular effect suggested that heavy smokers might also put themselves at a greater risk for insulin resistance. This is essentially a stepping point to diabetes, a dangerous disease that is associated with a high rate of mortality.
How Smoking Affects Metabolism
When you smoke a cigarette, your energy expenditure will generally increase. This is because the nicotine content seems to have a stimulatory effect. This means nicotine in the cigarette causes your metabolism to speed up.
Metabolism is a process that affects weight in different ways. A fast metabolism is generally associated with a lower body weight. On the other hand, a person with a slow metabolism might find it hard to lose weight, and much easier to gain excess weight.
Research shows that smoking does cause an increase in metabolic rate, but this is not always the case. In people who are new smokers, one of the effects associated with smoking may be a faster metabolism. This could result in weight reduction over a short period of time.
Among those who partake in heavy smoking, however, the effects would generally not be the same. This also accounts for people who have been smokers for a longer time period. The body becomes more used to the effects of nicotine, which means it generally serves as a less effective stimulant in the body.
In such a case, there can be a problem with weight gain instead. This means excess fat starts to accumulate in the body – with a large focus on the abdomen. Insulin resistance needs to be considered a problem at this point too. It is yet another factor that contributes to weight gain in the long run.
Apart from these, note that metabolic diseases could also be a long-term result. This includes cardiovascular risk factors, diabetes, and obesity. All three of these conditions are dangerous and can lead to a decreased lifespan.
Should Smoking Be Used As A Weight Loss Tool?
There are several studies and publications that shows smoking causes weight loss. With a large portion of the population being overweight or obese, people are often willing to do almost anything to lose weight.
While diets help some, there are people who feel it is impossible to lose weight. Some even gain no results when they put in a lot of effort from their side. This sometimes leads these people to try out alternative methods.
The question now is – should smoking be considered a potential remedy or tool for weight loss.
The answer is no. Turning to smoking as a way to lose weight should never be a recommendation – and for not only one, but several reasons.
Sure, there may be a slight reduction in weight during the early stages of smoking. This may be seen as beneficial to some people – but at what cost? When looking at methods to lose weight, you should always consider the risks and complications that may be involved in the process.
With smoking, there is the obvious risk of cancer. In addition to cancer, however, additional risks and problems are also associated with this dangerous habit.
Smoking And Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society (15), more than 15.5 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2016. It is estimated that 2017 will end with 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 deaths due to these severe diseases. Cancer rates keep growing and a wide range of factors contribute to their incidence and progression. The most recent study identified major risk factor cases and showed you can minimize the risk of developing cancer simply by making changes in your lifestyle.
Scientists discovered that about 42% of all cancers and 45% of cancer-related deaths were caused by modifiable risk factors i.e. things you can change. While many risk factors do increase your chances of getting cancer some of them are more dangerous than others. The study showed that top cancer risk factors are smoking, excess weight, and alcohol consumption.
More precisely, 19% of cancer cases and 29% of cancer deaths are associated with cigarette smoking, thus making this bad habit the most important risk factor for all cancers. Overweight and obesity account for 7.8% cancer cases and 6.5% of all cancer-related deaths. On the other hand, 5.6% of all cases of cancer and 4% of deaths are attributed to alcohol use.
To avoid the assumption that all other risk factors have a mild impact on the total number of new cases of cancers and death due to these severe diseases, scientists also revealed that:
- 2.9% of cancer cases and 2.2% of deaths are down to sedentary lifestyle
- 4.7% of cancer cases and 1.5% of deaths are caused by UV radiation
The study showed (16) that lung cancer has the highest portion of cases caused by modifiable risk factors. Up to 85.8% of lung cancers could have been prevented. For example, 81.7% of lung cancers are caused by smoking alone.
Cancer is generally considered the most important side-effect of smoking. This disease can quickly spiral out of control, especially if it is not identified during the earlier stages.
We need to consider more than just cancer as a consequence of smoking.
In addition to the risk of lung cancer, as well as cancerous cells invading the mouth, throat, tongue, lips, and the nose, these are other complications to take into consideration:
- Some people have experienced the development of macular degeneration due to smoking (4). The smoke may cause eyes to dry out. It is also possible for smoking to be a risk factor for cataracts in the eyes. In some, the white parts of the eye start to turn yellow due to exposure to smoke.
- Some people lose their sense of taste (5). It is also possible for smoking to affect the nose. In such a case, the sense of smell may be lost too.
- Oral hygiene tends to decline among smokers. One of the first signs would be stained teeth (6). Smoking causes yellow stains on your teeth. After a while, the smoking will start to cause tooth decay (7). This leads to broken and chipped teeth, as well as small holes in your teeth. Smoking also holds a strong association with bad breath.
- The poisonous chemicals found in cigarettes enter the blood through your lungs. The chemicals can then travel to your brain. This, in turn, will increase your likeliness to suffer from a stroke. Other forms of brain damage have also been associated with smoking (8).
- There is a risk of hearing loss among smokers too (9). Even though quite rare, it is still something that you need to take into account.
- Smoking over a long term can trigger asthma (10). In patients with existing asthma, episodes and symptoms may be triggered by smoking. Furthermore, people who smoke are more likely to experience shortness of breath. Chronic bronchitis is another complication that people need to be aware of.
- The chemicals found in your cigarette circulates through your heart. The habit causes blood pressure to rise. This can cause hypertension (11) – which, in turn, could damage your blood vessels. It has been found that blood supply may be restricted among smokers too. This effect is especially found in the arteries that lead directly to your heart. When this happens, you have a high risk of experiencing a heart attack (12).
- Among men, reduced blood circulation and high blood pressure can interfere with erectile function. Thus, the chances of developing erectile dysfunction will increase among male smokers (13). Furthermore, some studies show that smoking could harm sperm. There is also a risk of a reduction in sperm volume in men who smoke for a long time.
- In female patients, smoking has been shown to cause irregular periods (14). Pregnant women who smoke put their babies at risk. The habit increases the risk associated with a miscarriage. Furthermore, smoking could also have a negative impact on fertility. With this in mind, if both a man and a woman smokes, the chances of conceiving with success will be greatly reduced.
Safety First With Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, opting for safer options are always the better choice. Avoid picking up a packet of smokes with the idea to lose weight faster. Instead, look at the habits that are currently making it hard for you to lose weight. This could be sedentary behavior, a lack of exercise, and eating too much junk foods. By changing a few lifestyle factors, you might find yourself surprised at how easy weight loss can really be.
Smoking might play a role in fat distribution in the body, but it goes both ways. In heavier smokers, there may be an increase in body weight. Among light smokers, however, a decreased body weight has been found. Smoking should not be used as a tool for modifying weight. Alterations in fat distribution and weight management are just some of the negative effects smoking can have in the body. Switching habits can help to reduce further risks and complications.