Researchers know that smoking alters your DNA methylation, but a recent study demonstrates how long those changes last and how widespread they can be.
Lead researcher Dr. Stephanie London, Chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, says: “We don’t really know whether it means ‘damage’ to the DNA. That requires more study, using data outside what we have here. What we’re saying is that it’s a change to your DNA that can have a downstream effect on what genes are expressed at what levels.”
However, any change to DNA by toxic substances may be considered damage.
The amount of damage and the consequences for that damage is where researchers will be focusing further study. This study combined data from a set of participants from 16 other studies, using blood samples from over 15,000 people.
The team compared the samples from current smokers to former smokers and those who said they had never smoked. People who were currently smoking had over 2,500 genetic changes to their DNA.
After a smoker quits, much of the DNA changes revert back to their original state, but some remain changed for many years, maybe decades.
The researchers found 185 locations that were significantly different between people who formerly smoked and those who had never smoked.
Smoking changes your DNA methylation, affecting gene expression.
Researchers have linked these changes in gene expression from methylation to both the development of cancers and the expression of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. London, quoted in Medical News Today, expressed her concern over the long-term effects smokers may experience: “These results are important because methylation, as one of the mechanisms of the regulation of gene expression, affects what genes are turned on, which has implications for the development of smoking-related diseases.
Equally important is our finding that even after someone stops smoking, we still see the effects of smoking on their DNA.”
DNA methylation is also linked to prenatal cigarette exposure and the development of chronic disease when the child grows to adulthood.
The adverse effects of smoking during pregnancy have been well-documented, but most media attention is on preterm birth, low birth weight, brain damage to the baby, birth defects and lung damage.
Only now are other long-term health conditions associated with prenatal or early postnatal exposure to cigarette smoke.
Children exposed to smoke have increased risk of behavioral and developmental problems including attention deficit disorder (ADD) and other conduct disorders.
Other studies demonstrate links between prenatal smoking exposure and the development of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes in adulthood.
Further studies specifically link nicotine exposure to long term health conditions in children.
The Key to quitting smoking is to get healthy, which will make quitting much easier. Exercising is part of the plan, as the research shows people who engage in regular strength training 2X their success rate at quitting smoking compared to those who do not exercise. Healthy eating is another Key aspect that cannot be ignored.
If you are a parent, talk with your children about the risks of smoking, smokeless tobacco and e-Cigarettes. The easiest path to not smoking is to avoid starting in the 1st place.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively
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