Dangers & health risks of smoking - How harmful is it? It is estimated that around 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking. It is one of the biggest causes of death and debilitating illnesses.1
Smoking has been found to increase the risk of developing more than 50 health conditions, whilst not all fatal, some can have devastating damage to health long term, sometimes irreversal.2
Health risks of smoking
There are many health risks associated with smoking and that is because it damages different parts of your body and functions, such as your:
- blood circulation
- respiratory system
- impotence in men
- fertility in men and women3
Health risks of passive smoking
Passive smoking can also be detrimental to our health. Passive smoking or secondhand smoke is when you breathe in the smoke of someone else's cigarette.
Passive smoking can increase your risks of developing illnesses that smokers are prone to.
Infants are especially vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke, causing them to develop illnesses such as chest infections, persistent coughs, ear infections and more.
Smoking and lacking in magnesium
Smoking can also leave you lacking in crucial vitamins and minerals, including magnesium.
The body needs magnesium, as this nutrient is crucial for many processes that happen in the body, such as:4
- regulating muscle function5
- regularting nerve function6
- maintaining blood sugar levels7
- making protein, bone and DNA8
Why smokers lack magnesium
Experts have long argued that part of the health risk of smoking is that smokers tend to eat a less healthy diet, so they lack key nutrients. In 2017, US researchers decided to put that theory to the test.
They looked at the diets of men and women, both smokers and non-smokers, who completed a three-day food diary. Results showed that smokers had low intakes of healthy fats, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, various B vitamins, vitamin A, and vitamin E.
Although the study found non-smokers also failed to eat enough key nutrients, the smokers’ intake was substantially lower.
Handpicked content: How to get the most nutrients from your food
Other reasons as to why smokers lack magnesium is due to the following:
More cigarettes ups deficiency: Another study examined whether the amount you smoke also affected nutrient levels. Research published in the IOSR Journal Of Pharmacy in 2016 looked at both iron and magnesium levels in the blood of smokers, and found that not only were magnesium levels much lower in smokers, magnesium was significantly decreased when people got through more than 15 cigarettes a day.
Appetite or absorption: Smoking can dent your appetite – if you’re eating less food, you’re getting fewer nutrients – but it can also reduce absorption of magnesium thanks to the impact it has on your digestion.
Smoking weakens the muscle between the oesophagus and stomach, and can also affect factors that protect or heal the stomach lining, such as blood flow or the mucus that protects the stomach lining. All this damage makes it harder to absorb nutrients such as magnesium.
Damaging the kidneys: Scientists have also found that nicotine damages the kidneys. This is important because kidneys are responsible for regulating the body’s excretion and reabsorption of electrolytes, including magnesium. If the kidneys are less able to excrete these substances, you can be left with a build-up of waste products in the blood.
This disruption to kidney function can lead to high blood pressure and further kidney damage, or even kidney failure. That’s why smokers with conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure tend to develop kidney disease much faster than non-smokers.
Yet another reason to stub out the cigs and munch on magnesium-rich leafy greens.
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How smoking affects your skin, hair and nails
Smoking can also have a detrimental effect on your skin, hair and nails.
- Skin - nicotine, which is found in cigarettes, causes blood vessels to narrow in the outer layers of your skin. Narrow blood vessels impairs blood flow, meaning your skin doesn’t get as much oxygen or nutrients it needs.9 Read more about smoking and the effects on your skin.
- Hair - Healthy hair needs three things; oxygen, nutrients and minerals. Nicotine and toxic chemicals in cigarettes can reduce circulation and cause blood vessels to shrink, impairing blood flow. If your follicles don’t receive the blood, oxygen and nutrients it needs, then the hair growth cycle is interrupted.10
- Nails - One way to tell if someone is a smoker is by looking at their fingers or nails. This is because nicotine can stain them making them look brown or yellow in colour.
Smoking has many detrimental effects on our health and if you are a regular smoker, there are many benefits to why you should quit!
There are aids available to help you stop smoking, if going cold turkey isn’t your thing, but in the meantime make sure your body is getting the vitamins and nutrients it needs.
Last updated: 23 March 2021
Author: Donia Hilal
- Joined Holland & Barrett: January 2018
- Qualifications: : Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist, Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one-to-one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction.
View Donia's LinkedIn profile.
Author: Donia Hilal