You often hear about how stopping smoking allows you to essentially erase the effects that smoking has had on your body, and that the longer it has been since you quit, the healthier your body becomes. However, recent findings show that smoking actually permanently damages your DNA, and that while some of the scarring fades over time, it is never completely gone.
The study was conducted by scientists working at the Harvard Medical School, and they discovered that after analyzing 16,000 people, some of the disease-causing genetic material creating by smoking cigarettes is actually still present decades later, though most of it does fade by the five-year mark after quitting.
The body tries its best to recover from the effects of smoking, so smokers should definitely still quit and not feel like news of this study makes it pointless for them to quit, or even encourages them to smoke.
The process of cigarette chemicals altering the DNA is known as methylation. Methylation is the process that alters how a gene can function, and this process often leads to disease. Two common diseases that are direct results of genetic damage are cancer and heart disease.
The way in which this survey was conducted was actually pretty genius. Here, the scientists took blood samples from 16,000 subjects who had already participated in various studies over the years, going as far back as 1971. In each of those studies, the applicants filled out questionnaires detailing their smoking and diet habits, lifestyle choices, and health histories.
Smokers in particular were found to have over 7,000 genes that were altered by methylation. This is one-third the total number of known human genes. Unsurprisingly, many of these genes were known to be direct links to heart disease and smoking-related cancers. However, what is perhaps most disconcerting is that the TIAM2 gene, which is linked to lymphoma, was found in people who hadn’t smoked in 30 years. If ever there was a case for never starting to smoke in the first place, this is it.
Some of the 7,000 genes were not previously associated with smoking-related damage before, so this new information may enable scientists to use these genes as “markers” in order to determine who may be at risk of succumbing to smoking-related diseases later on. Perhaps more hopeful, however, is that this new information also may assist in the creation of new and/or improved drugs in order to treat the damaged cells before they can bloom into disease.
This would be a fantastic development, considering how 480,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses every year - according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - and what’s worse is that each and every one of these deaths is preventable. Globally, that number skyrockets to a jaw-dropping 6 million people who die annually due to the cancers, heart disease, and lung disease that are directly linked to smoking.
We are winning the war against cigarettes, however, seeing as how smoking rates in the U.S. have significantly dropped in recent years. Now, only about 15 percent of the country’s adults smoke, and only about 11 percent of high school students do.