A couple weeks ago Twitter was abuzz with the latest scientific news related to smoking. A research team has found that substances in cigarette smoke causes blood vessel endothelial cells to constantly digest themselves, and described it as an “intracellular waste disposal.” The damaged cells are caught, digested and recycled, and in normal situations this isn’t a problem because new cells are formed. In smokers, this process is constantly turned on and leads to inflammation and damage of the cells.
The endothelium is a thin layer of cells, sort of like a membrane, that lines the circulatory system. It plays an important role in regulating blood flow. The cells themselves are called endothelial cells. In a healthy individual these cells stop the accumulation of thrombocytes, or platelets. In a smoker, the constant damage to the cells can lead to inflammation and calcification of the arteries.
Calcification, or “hardening” of the arteries, makes it more difficult for the vessels to have the elasticity they need to pump blood through the body. It can also lead to the platelets sticking to the walls of the vessels. Atherosclerosis, a disease of the arteries in which fatty deposits accumulate on the inner walls of vessels, is another form of damage that takes place in the vessels. If enough of these deposits accumulate on the walls, the vessel becomes blocked and can result in stroke or a myocardial infarction, more commonly known as a heart attack. You don’t have to be old to have blocked arteries from smoking.
The next part of the study will be testing. The obvious answer is for people to stop smoking, but with approximately one billion smokers in the world, researchers are of the opinion that they have to help those smokers who cannot stop. Their aim will be to conduct studies to reveal how much smoke a person has been exposed to and how much damage has already accumulated.
Continuing to smoke while waiting for medical science to repair the damage and make you healthy again isn’t the answer. Quitting is the best solution.