Smoking & Dietary Habits
For some, smoking can provide an outlet to de-stress, relieve social anxiety, and provide temporary pleasure. Although, for many, it can be highly addictive.
Tobacco contains a highly addictive component known as nicotine. Nicotine has the ability to reach the brain within 10 seconds of entering the body, affecting all parts of the body, but primarily the brain. The substance provides an instant sensation of pleasure and relief, as the brain releases adrenaline when the nicotine enters the body. This sensation typically lasts for 10 seconds, and then quickly fades. For many, this can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as depression, trouble sleeping, and hunger/weight gain.1
The habit of smoking can often form during a stressful period in an individuals life and is used as a coping mechanism for the stress. Additionally, usage can begin from peer pressure, or for a method of cultural acceptance. Many smokers begin at the young age of 14, with there being a 2% increase of young smokers within the past two years. The formation of this habit at such a young age can greatly increase the risk of nicotine addiction due to the individual's reliance on the drug from early on.2
With the awareness of smoking and its link to disease and health complications rising, smoking rates have rapidly declined since 1974. Though the current number of smokers in the UK is declining, approximately 17 percent of individuals still currently smoke in the UK, with 5 percent of these individuals using e-cigarettes.3
Is There a Link Between Smoking and Nutrition?
Smoking can have a profound effect on health with its ability to increase the risk of disease, inhibit nutrient absorption, and encourage vitamin deficiencies.
About 90 percent of lung cancers stem from tobacco usage, with the product also generating cancer in other parts of the body, such as the mouth, throat, kidney, liver, and stomach.4
Smokers are more likely to practice negative eating habits than nonsmokers; typically, smokers lean towards choosing foods with a higher fat content, less fruits and vegetables, and are more likely to consume higher amounts of alcohol and caffeine.4 This can be due to nicotine’s ability to alter taste buds and suppress a smoker’s ability to taste flavour in foods, which can lead to poor dietary choices.5
Cigarette smoke is typically comprised of gases and tar particles, which can produce free radicals. When a smoker exhales this gas, these free radicals can enter the body, causing damage to cells. Free radicals are uncharged electrons that come from toxins in the environment that often cause damage to DNA and cells in the body by “stealing” an electron from the cell, causing a disruption to the living cell.6 Therefore, it is highly important for smokers to consume foods high in antioxidants. Acai berries are one of the highest forms of antioxidants on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale, being a great source for those looking to increase a number of antioxidants in their diet. Additionally, antioxidants can be found in most berries, dark chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon.7
Moreover, smoking has an effect on the ability of nutrient absorption. Smoking can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, putting those at risk for osteoporosis, bone fractures, and low bone mass.8 Vitamin D is also needed for strong bones, which can be inhibited through smoking. Without vitamin D, the body has a difficult time absorbing calcium from the intestines, in order to metabolise it. Therefore, it is crucial that the two are taken together to ensure optimum absorption.9
With smoking, the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) for vitamin C is increased by 30% to 52mg per day for most adult males and females, due to the body’s struggle to absorb the nutrient. 10 This causes many vitamin C deficiencies among smokers, as many fail to meet this requirement.
Iron is required for proper absorption of vitamin C, so an iron deficiency can also lead to a Vitamin C deficiency. Additionally, in turn, a diet low in vitamin C can lead to low blood cell production and iron absorption. This can eventually lead to the decrease in healthy blood cells, known as anaemia, which can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, and irritability.9
How to Maintain a Healthy Diet as a Smoker
By ensuring that you are meeting your daily requirements for each nutrient, it will be easier for your body to efficiently absorb each nutrient. By consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, unprocessed foods, and few additives, it can increase the chances of meeting the requirement of each vitamin and mineral, as well as assist with nutrient absorption. Supplements are an effective way to ensure that all recommended nutrient intakes are met. The most beneficial supplements for smokers to take would include:
Acai provides antioxidants which help to fight free radicals
Maca was traditionally given to soldiers to boost their stamina, it has a similar use today, where it helps to boost energy levels and fight fatigue.
Deficiency in vitamin C can lead to fatigue, depression, and skin rash, slow healing of wounds and as many smokers are found to be deficient, it is especially important to have a sufficient intake
Iron assists with a healthy blood cell supply, with an insufficient amount of iron, our blood cannot contain enough oxygen to transport around our bodies, this leads to fatigue.
Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, smoking can inhibit the amount of vitamin D we get. Sources of vitamin D are also limited within the diet, so to ensure sufficient intake, especially between October-March when, in the UK we cannot create it from the sun.
How Do I Stop Smoking Or Cut Back?
Smoking can make simple daily functions difficult to complete and greatly affect one’s health, putting the body at risk for many health complications. Additionally, it can be an issue financially, which can cause unnecessary stress.
There are many resources available to help an individual to decrease the use of tobacco, or to stop smoking entirely.
- Social media support groups are a fantastic way to break the habit. With the help of others, it can make the process not feel so lonely. There are many sites such as Ivillage, Why quit, and Inspire that are there to help.
- Free online support offered by the NHS, or call their help line at 0300 123 1044.
- Nicotine replacement patches.
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