This great guest post was written by Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor specializing in natural hormone balance! We encourage you to go check out her website!
There are 1.1 billion tobacco users in the world, and tobacco kills up to 50% of them (ASH). The CDC reports that smoking causes 90% of all lung cancer deaths in men and women. More than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than dying in wars fought by the United States during its history.
Its deadly risk stems from inhaling over 7,000 ingredients, such as arsenic, butane (in lighter fluid), carbon monoxide (competes with, and displaces oxygen on hemoglobin in red blood cell, so cells do not receive the proper amount of oxygen), and tiny glass particles (cuts up lungs to enhance nicotine delivery).
What Are the Effects of Smoking on your Health?
Inhaling these chemicals first-hand, second-hand, or third hand (typically embedded in fabric) does not just lead to lung related illnesses such as lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can also lead to heart diseases, like heart attacks or congestive heart failure, by damaging heart and blood vessel integrity due to increased plaque deposits.
Nicotine raises cortisol (our stress hormone) and DHEA (our ‘all is good’ hormone), but chronically elevated cortisol will also suppress our immune system, like a cough to expel toxins. Smoking also contributes to:
- hormone imbalance
- gastrointestinal issues
- blood sugar issues
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Since nicotine crosses the blood brain barrier and produces pleasant feelings by releasing dopamine (our reward hormone), it becomes addictive very quickly. Withdrawal symptoms like feeling irritable/edgy occur a few minutes later – leading the user to reach for another cigarette. As withdrawal symptoms become increasingly intense, more cigarettes are needed to achieve the same desired feelings. In fact, nicotine addiction has been labeled powerful enough that it may be harder to quit smoking than to stop using cocaine or heroin (ACS, 2015). Even if people started for social reasons or as a coping mechanism, the many physiological mechanisms can create multiple barriers to quitting.
Many of these deleterious health effects may also be due to depletion of important antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, ubiquinol, glutathione, and alpha-lipoic acid, which serve to gather the additional free radicals and other oxidant species caused by smoking (Elsayed & Bendich, 2001). Chronic stress also depletes B vitamins and magnesium; nutrients involved in over 300 and 500 reactions in the human body, respectively.
However, supplements are not a substitute for the harm caused by cigarettes. Nutrients are best absorbed by eating the whole food they’re contained in (ex. an orange) because it’s filled with the perfect blend of optimal vitamin and mineral interaction.
8 Ways to Quit Smoking
Stopping completely is the best way to quit smoking, but multiple support methods may be required to counteract the physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms that can arise.
The therapeutic mechanisms behind acupuncture are not thoroughly researched, however, it has been shown to help people quit smoking. It matters where the needles are placed. Acupuncture at points affecting the airways, lungs, and mouth can reduce cravings for the taste of tobacco, lowering the desire to smoke. After a month of acupuncture treatments every other week, participants experienced smoking cessation (He, Medbo, Hostmark, 2001).
Defined as an altered state of consciousness where a person can bypass certain aspects of reality and feel compelled to follow cues from an outside source, hypnosis can help smokers associate cigarettes with unpleasant stimuli (e.g. dry mouth, poor health outcomes) and the belief they will lose the desire to smoke. Studies have shown it can accelerate the process of quitting but contributes less to long-term smoking cessation (Covino & Bottari, 2001).
Five minutes of moderate-intensity exercise is associated with a short-term reduction in the desire to smoke and tobacco withdrawal symptoms, so brief bouts of exercise may aid in smoking cessation (Daniel, Cropley, Ussher, & West, 2004).
Magnesium helps decrease nicotine addiction by antagonizing NMDA receptors, which are responsible for the dopamine (reward center) release. Magnesium may also decrease nicotine’s effect on NMDA receptors by enhancing GABA (our relaxing neurotransmitter) synthesis (then blocks glutamate formation, an excitatory neurotransmitter). Simply put, this mineral will lower the user’s satisfaction from smoking. Magnesium is fastest absorbed through powder, such as by NaturalCalm, or in Epsom salt baths (add lavender essential oil for extra relaxation)!
A long-time, popular way to help people quit smoking, the nicotine patch is known to have lasting effects. The nicotine patch has been shown to be more effective in combination with drugs like varenicline and bupropion, medications that also address nicotine addiction, than the patch alone (Koegelenberg, et al., 2014) (Jorenby, et al., 1999). One study demonstrated that a higher dose of 44-mg per patch may provide substantial short-term benefits for smokers (not a general starter dose), but produced more adverse effects than 22 mg, over a 4-week period. Doses were titrated in half after 2 weeks and combined with counseling, physician visits, and pamphlets (Jorenby, et. al, 1995). However, the dose of the patch is best determined by how much and how frequently one smokes.
One study exposed smokers for one week to the smell of cigarettes and rotting eggs or fish while they are in stage 2, non-REM sleep (versus other stages of sleep), and the subjects reported smoking less over the course of the week (Azri, Holtzman, Samnon, Eshel, Harel, & Sobel, 2014).
When a craving hits, slicing up lime slices to suck on and then chewing the skin may be as effective as either 2 or 4 mg of nicotine gum.They are also rich in vitamin C (thought to help curb cravings) and antioxidants (Rungruanghiranya, Ekpanyaskul, Sakulisariyaporn, Watcharanat, & Akkalakulawas, 2012).However, it’s not as good as nicotine gum in reducing the number of cravings.
Practicing to ‘sit’ through difficult scenarios, such as cravings or withdrawal symptoms, elicited beneficial outcomes on its own and is the strategy most likely to help users sustainably quit smoking (Brewer, et al., 2011)