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Is your good health going up in smoke?

I know, you've read the pack ... cigarette smoking is harmful. But, is that next puff worth the risk? You decide.Statistically, smokers are 10 times as likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers.It ju...

I know, you’ve read the pack … cigarette smoking is harmful. But, is that next puff worth the risk? You decide.

Statistically, smokers are 10 times as likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers.

It just makes sense. Inhaling poisonous chemicals affects your lungs. But, we can all name exceptions … my grandfather smoked his entire life – until he was 85 years old. And up until his last few years, he seemed to be in great health. He was the exception. You may not be as lucky. My other grandfather wasn’t – he died at 67. Not from cancer, but after his third heart attack.

Smoking doesn’t just cause cancer, it also harms your circulatory system. The inhaled chemicals use up your folate.

Folate is a nutrient that controls the synthesis of DNA: the blueprint of our cells. With too little folate, cells change. Especially blood cells: some don’t mature, so they don’t divide. This gives smokers fewer cells to carry oxygen through the blood. So, they become winded easier.

Other blood cells become large and awkward, so large they can’t travel through capillaries. The clots they form lead to strokes.

Smoking also makes your heart work harder. Each time you inhale, the poisons immediately cause free-radical damage to the lining of the arteries – leading to atherosclerosis.

As well, nicotine increases your blood pressure. Sustained high blood pressure weakens the heart muscle – causing ineffective pumping and congestive heart failure. Heart attack and stroke are more likely for a smoker.

In an earlier column we looked at good and bad cholesterol. Smoking increases the bad and decreases the good – another direct link to heart disease and stroke.

As well, smoking weakens your bones. Your body stops storing calcium efficiently when you smoke. So, your bones become less dense and more brittle, making you more likely to fracture something with a slight injury. Think about this every time you jump out of your truck.

Smoking bothers digestion. Some smoke to control their weight – nicotine can be great for weight loss. It increases your metabolism, decreases hunger, and dulls your taste buds and your sense of smell. So it’s easier to eat less. Less of what? Unfortunately, the average smoker eats less fibre, vitamin A, beta-carotene, folate, and Vitamin C. This creates a double whammy – smokers consume less of the very nutrients that flush the toxins they’re inhaling. Most smokers suffer from a lack of these essential vitamins.

Why not quit?

Afraid you’ll gain weight?

Ten pounds is the average weight gain for a smoker who quits. Weight gain/health gain? You decide.

Or, try chewing tobacco instead. Is this better? Yes – if you don’t want lung cancer. But, only if you prefer cancer of the nasal cavities, gums and throat. Decisions: lungs, or mouth?

It’s obvious that tobacco damages whatever it touches. Just look at your yellow fingers. Or, look in your mouth.

Take a breath mint first, if you want to take a close look. Smoking gives you bad breath.

It also stains your teeth, weakens the surface of your teeth, damages your gums, and can even affect the strength of your jawbone. If you don’t want dentures at an early age – you need to quit.

If you can’t quit, you can reduce the harmful effects by increasing the intake of foods rich in beta-carotene, folate, and Vitamin C.

For Beta-carotene: eat spinach and other dark leafy vegetables; broccoli; deep orange fruits (apricots, cantaloupe) and vegetables (squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin).

For Vitamin C: eat citrus fruits, cabbage-type vegetables, dark green vegetables, cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, papayas, and mangoes.

(Remember – raw is always better.)

Take advantage of the variety of citrus available during the winter season: tangerines, clementines, along with the regular oranges and grapefruit.

Remember, smokers need to double their intake of Vitamin C.

If you don’t smoke, but spend a few hours a day in a smoky coffee shop, or, you drive team with someone who does – you need to eat more of these foods, too. Don’t pay for someone else’s habit.

I know that smoking may break the monotony of a long haul, but so might chewing gum, crunching on carrots, listening to music, studying something interesting by tape, listening to books on tape, or anything else that makes the miles go by a little faster.

Don’t let smoking shorten your life, just so a trip seems shorter.

No matter how you look at it, smoking hurts you. No ifs, ands, or butts.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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