Reducing Smoking Boosts Heart Health: Study
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Smokers who quit or even just cut down on cigarettes can begin to reap the health benefits within a few months, new study findings suggest.
In the study, individuals who gradually quit smoking saw improvements in risk factors for heart disease, including lower cholesterol and carbon monoxide levels. The findings may encourage some of the millions of smokers worldwide to cut back on tobacco, which will cause an estimated 10 million deaths a year by 2030, report researchers led by Dr. Bjorn Eliasson from Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Goteborg, Sweden.
``Smoking reduction results in improvements in established cardiovascular risk factors...which has the potential to benefit individual and public health,'' the authors write.
Over 4 months, 33 adults who had smoked 15 or more cigarettes a day for at least 3 years reduced and tried to quit smoking. To help curb their cravings, they used a nicotine-containing nasal spray manufactured by Pharmacia Consumer Healthcare, which funded the study.
After 9 weeks, participants had cut their smoking in half, on average. Levels of carbon monoxide declined by about 17%, while total cholesterol and LDL (''bad'') cholesterol levels also fell. Meanwhile, HDL (''good'') cholesterol rose, and the blood's capacity to transport oxygen also improved, Eliasson's team reports in the August issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of tobacco smoke that has been found to boost cholesterol, levels of white blood cells and other risk factors for heart disease. The gas can also impair the blood's ability to transport oxygen throughout the body, which may raise the risk of heart attack.
According to previous research cited in the report, reducing total cholesterol by up to 9% and reducing LDL cholesterol by just 1% can lower a person's risk of heart disease.
``Reduction (of smoking) is a step in the right direction, especially for those that are not quite ready to stop yet,'' Eliasson told Reuters Health, although he added that it could be difficult for some people to maintain a lower level for a long period of time.