When we think of the damage being done to our body by smoking we tend to focus on our lungs. It’s natural to do so. We can hear the wheezing, feel the cough and actually sense the gradual deterrioration occurring inside. But if we’re going to worry or be concerned based upon the magnitude or size of the health risk we face, then our greatest concern should be on the damage smoking inflicts upon our body’s blood flow systems. Yes, smoking related circulatory disease kills far more smokers than lung cancer and the damage started quickly and early.
Blood is a vehicle for delivering oxygen and nutrients to our body’s tissues and organs. Without it they die. Our blood vessels (circulatory system) are the piping highways in which our blood flows. The inside of each healthy blood vessel is coated with a thin Teflon like layer of cells that ensure smooth blood flow. Carbon monoxide from smoking or second-hand smoke damages this important layer of cells, allowing fats and plaque to stick to vessel walls. Nicotine then performs a double whammy of sorts.
First, each time new nicotine arrives in our brain it causes the body to activate its fight or flight stress defenses. This in turn causes the immediate release of stored fats into the bloodstream, fats intended to be used to provide the instant energy needed to either fight or flee the saber tooth tiger. But there is no tiger
The extra food we consumed during our big meals each day was converted to fat and stored. It was then pumped back into our bloodstream with each new puff of nicotine. It’s how we were able to skip meals and what causes many of us to experience wild blood sugar swings when trying to quit. In fact, many of the symptoms of withdrawal – like an inability to concentrate – are due to nicotine no longer feeding us while we continue to skip meals
In order to avoid extreme blood sugar fluctuations when quitting we don’t need to eat more food. We need to learn to spread our normal daily calorie intake out more evenly over our entire day. We need to learn to once again feed ourselves.
The heavy blasts of stored fats released by nicotine stick to vessel walls damaged by toxic carbon monoxide. It only gets worse. We’ve recently learned that nicotine itself, inside our vessels, somehow causes the growth of new blood vessels (vascularization) that then provide a rich supply of oxygen and nutrients to the fats and plaques that have stuck to our vessel walls. This internal nicotine vascularization (vessels within vessels) hardens a smoker’s blood arteries and veins and further accelerates their narrowing and clogging.
We each have a rough sense of the damage we’ve done to our lungs but what degree of clogging has already occurred inside our blood vessels? How long do we have before our coronary arteries – that supply life giving oxygen and nutrients to our heart muscle – become 100% clogged? It’s called a heart attack and the portion of the heart muscle that receives oxygen from a particular artery will quickly die. How long do we have before our carotid arteries – supplying life giving oxygen and nutrients to our brain – become 100% clogged? It’s called a stroke and the portion of the brain serviced by the artery will quickly die.
The damage being done isn’t just to the vessels supplying blood to our heart and brain. It’s occurring, to one degree or another, inside every vessel in a smoker’s body. It effects everything from blood vessels associated with hearing to the skin’s blood supply that shows itself in wrinkles, early aging, hair loss and tooth loss. Below are links to images showing varying degrees of artery clogging, followed by some wonderful links that aid in understanding our body’s circulatory system.