The cardiovascular system
Our cardiovascular system is a network of arteries, veins and capillaries that allow blood pumped by our heart to deliver essential nutrients to our organs and muscles, as well as remove harmful toxins such as CO2 from our bodies. Any blockage or interruption to this blood flow can have serious health consequences, so it’s important to keep our circulation system in tip-top condition.
How cigarettes harm our circulation
The chemicals in cigarettes can damage the blood vessels in our circulatory system in a number of ways.
The chemicals in cigarettes also damage the lining of the arteries. This damage can cause fatty deposits to build up on the artery walls (atherosclerosis)3. Such deposits increase the risk of heart attack by narrowing important arteries to the heart. The same deposits can impact other areas of the body, causing a condition called peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which occurs when circulation to the extremities – usually the legs and feet – is impaired, which can cause leg pain.
Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals, many of which are known to be harmful to our bodies, these include nicotine and carbon monoxide. These chemicals have a harmful impact on the cells lining the blood vessels by activating a type of white blood cell called neutrophils1, which cause inflammation. When blood vessels are inflamed, there is less room for the blood to flow freely.
The chemical nicotine can also have a negative effect on blood flow, as it causes blood vessels to shrink4. Over time, the pressure on blood vessels causes them to lose elasticity and get stiff. Again, this can affect the body’s ability to circulate blood as it should.
Chemicals in cigarettes may also cause your blood to become more ‘sticky.’5 Not only does this make it harder for the heart to pump it around the body, but stickier blood also puts you at higher risk of forming blood clots. The thicker, sticky blood can also cause damage to your blood vessels.
Impact to cholesterol
Smoking has a detrimental effect on the cholesterol levels2 in your blood. Not only does it worsen the impact of ‘bad’ cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein - LDL) on the body and increases its toxicity, it also reduces the level of the ‘good’ stuff (high-density lipoprotein – HDL) in your blood stream – this type of cholesterol protects against heart disease.
- Missing link between smoking and inflammation identified, ScienceDaily https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161031110809.htm
- Smoking plus high cholesterol ups heart attack risk, https://www.everydayhealth.com/high-cholesterol/living-with/the-cholesterol-smoking-connection/
- Smoking and heart disease - Better Health Channel, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/smoking-and-heart-disease#smoking-damages-the-heart-and-blood-vessels
- How Tobacco Affects the Heart and Blood Vessels, https://www.abiomed.com/patients-and-caregivers/blog/how-tobacco-affects-the-heart-and-blood-vessels
- How Smoking Affects Your Body | Parkview Health, https://www.parkview.com/well-being/smoking-cessation/how-smoking-affects-the-body
- Smoking Effects on Your Body, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/smoking-effects-on-your-body
- Peripheral Vascular Disease, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/peripheral-vascular-disease
- Quit smoking - NHS (www.nhs.uk), https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/
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