The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that cigarette smoking is responsible for about half a million deaths in the United States every year. The figure rises to an astonishing six million people annually if the entire planet is considered. Smoking has been implicated in many diseases of the human body, and its effects leave no cell of the body unscathed. New information gleaned from conducting scientific research on the effects of smoking have revealed that smoking has a long arm that can reach DNA, the hallowed genetic code that holds the secret to all life on earth.
The scientific study was conducted by scientists and researchers led by Roby Joehanese, a research scientist at Harvard Medical School and the Hebrew SeniorLife Institute for Aging Research. In their study, which examined blood samples from about sixteen thousand people, signatures in DNA resulting from tobacco use were identified and contributed to diseases such as heart disease and lung cancer.
The area of focus that the study was limited to was in DNA methylation and its effects in inducing cancer and other diseases in the body. DNA methylation is important because it is one of the ways in which the gene expression is controlled. Gene expression can be likened to military orders issued to field commanders from army headquarters. If gene expression is altered, cells that should have stopped growing and multiplying may continue to do so, thus triggering neoplasia. Neoplasia is the mechanism behind the development and spread of cancer in human beings.
By interfering with DNA methylation, smoking predisposes the individual to developing smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer. The study discovered that about one-third of known genes in smokers were altered in some way related to alterations in DNA methylation. What is even more surprising is the fact that most of these genes would retain these changes for at least five years. Other genes, for instance, the TIAM2 gene that has been associated with lymphoma (a cancerous disease of the lymph nodes and bone marrow that interferes with blood cell production) take as long as thirty years in order to return to normal.
As one of the biggest causes of preventable death all over the world, smoking has direct effects on multiple organs and organ systems in the human body. In the brain, cigarette smoking causes nicotine addiction, which is the principal reason why many people are unable to shake off their smoking habit. Tobacco use can lead to loss of hearing, loss of vision and oral problems such as sores and ulcers that will negatively affect your oral hygiene goals. By increasing cholesterol levels in blood, smoking will also cause undue pressure and stress on the heart, leading to increased blood pressure as well as coronary artery disease (itself a leading cause of death the world over).
The silver lining in the study that confirmed smoking’s effect on DNA is that the affected genes can be targeted for preventive and curative therapies for smoking-related diseases.