A new study shows how smoking cigarettes causes lasting damage to human DNA. The toxins from cigarette smoke alter more than 7,000 different genes in ways that may contribute smoking-related diseases. Although some damage to the DNA is permanent, the good news is that the genes had recovered for most people that had quit smoking for at least 5 years.
According to researchers the process in which smoking effects DNA is called methylation. In this process the genetic changes that don’t alter genes’ underlying code, but change how the genetic code is expressed. The sooner you can stop smoking, the better off you are,” said study author Dr. Stephanie London.
Known to contribute to an array of health problems including cancer, heart disease and stroke, cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 6 million deaths each year, according to the study. Even decades after smokers quit, the habit confers the possibility of long-term risk of disease. DNA methylation changes have been proposed as one possible reason for this.
Most of the impact of smoking on health is reversible, but some is not. Smoking alters genetic makeup in a way that’s not totally reversible. Obviously quitting smoking as soon as possible is the best way to prevent further damage from smoking. There are other ways to improve health and speed up recovery as well. A healthy diet of raw fruits and vegetables is important, along with enough sleep, exercise, avoiding stress, and taking vitamins and supplements.
Smoking has such a wide array of negative health effects, it’s not especially surprising to hear its epigenetic effects. Many cancers, bone disease, lung disease, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and more, are clearly caused by smoking but the relationship between smoking and genetics is not totally clear yet. This new research raises some issues despite not being able to establish a clear cause and effect relationship between smoking related genetic changes and resulting health problems.