smoking + digestion

Cigarette smoking causes a variety of life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. An estimated 400,000 deaths each year are caused directly by cigarette smoking. Smoking is responsible for changes in all parts of the body, including the digestive system.

This can have serious consequences because it is the digestive system that converts foods into the nutrients the body needs to live.

Current estimates indicate that about one-third of all adults smoke. And, while adult men seem to be smoking less, women and teenagers of both sexes seem to be smoking more. How does smoking affect the digestive system of all these people?

harmful effects of smoking on digestion

Smoking has been shown to have harmful effects on all parts of the digestive system, contributing to such common disorders as heartburn and peptic ulcers. The effects of smoking on the liver often are not discussed, but studies show that smoking may alter the way in which the liver handles drugs and alcohol. In addition, smoking apparently changes the way in which food is processed by the body. In fact, there seems to be enough evidence to stop smoking solely on the basis of digestive distress.

smoking + heartburn

Heartburn is a very common disorder among Americans. Heartburn is especially common among pregnant women, with 25 % reporting daily heartburn and more than 50 % experiencing occasional distress.

Most people will experience heartburn if the lining of the esophagus comes into contact with too much stomach juice for a long period of time. This stomach juice consists of acid produced by the stomach, as well as bile salts and digestive enzymes that may have washed into the stomach from the intestine.

Normally, a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), keeps the acid solution in the stomach and out of the esophagus. Sometimes the LES is weak and allows stomach juice to reflux, or flow backward into the esophagus.

Many people have occasional reflux episodes. Persons with heartburn usually have frequent episodes or fail to return the refluxed material to the stomach promptly. The prolonged contact of acid stomach juice with the esophageal lining injures the esophagus and produces burning pain. Smoking decreases the strength of the esophageal valve, thereby allowing more refluxed material into the esophagus.

Smoking also seems to promote the movement of bile salts from the intestine to the stomach to produce a more harmful reflux material. Finally, smoking may directly injure the esophagus, making it less able to resist further damage because of contact with refluxed material from the stomach.

smoking + ulcers

An ulcer is an open sore in the lining of the stomach or duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. The exact cause of ulcers is not known. A relationship between smoking cigarettes and ulcers, especially duodenal ulcers, does exist. The 1989 Surgeon General's report stated that ulcers are more likely to occur, less likely to heal, and more likely to cause death in smokers than in nonsmokers.

Why is this so?

Doctors are not really sure, but smoking does seem to be one of several factors that work together to promote the formation of ulcers. Stomach acid is important in producing ulcers.

Normally, most of this acid is buffered by the food we eat. Most of the unbuffered acid that enters the duodenum is quickly neutralized by sodium bicarbonate, a naturally occurring alkali produced by the pancreas. Some studies show that smoking reduces the bicarbonate produced by the pancreas, interfering with the neutralization of acid in the duodenum. Other studies suggest that chronic cigarette smoking may increase the amount of acid secreted by the stomach.

There also is some evidence suggesting that smoking increases the speed at which the stomach empties its acid contents into the small intestine. Although the evidence is inconclusive on some of these issues, all are possible explanations for the higher rate and slower healing of ulcers among smokers.

Whatever causes the link between smoking and ulcers, two points have been repeatedly demonstrated: Persons who smoke are more likely to develop an ulcer, especially a duodenal ulcer, and ulcers are less likely to heal quickly among smokers in response to otherwise effective treatment. This research tracing the relationship between smoking and ulcers strongly suggests that a person with an ulcer should stop smoking.

smoking + the liver

The liver is a very important organ that has many tasks. Among other things, the liver is responsible for processing drugs, alcohol, and other toxins to remove them from the body. There is evidence that smoking alters the ability of the liver to handle these substances. In some cases, this may influence the dose of medication necessary to treat an illness. One theory, based on current evidence also suggests that smoking can aggravate the course of liver disease caused by excessive alcohol intake.

smoking + weight control

A common belief is that smoking helps to control weight. Smokers do, indeed, weigh less, on the average, than nonsmokers. And those who quit smoking are more likely to gain weight. Most people think this is because smokers eat less than nonsmokers. Some researchers have found, however, that smokers actually eat more than nonsmokers.

How can they weigh less? What happens to the extra calories? Scientists are not really sure about the answers to these questions, but they caution smokers not to think that just because they weigh less, they are healthier than if they didn't smoke. Research shows that the bodies of smokers use food less efficiently than nonsmokers. Scientists are still studying what implications this has on the long-range health of smokers.

can the damage be reversed?

Some of the effects of smoking on the digestive system appear to be of short duration. For example, the effect of smoking on bicarbonate production by the pancreas does not appear to last. Within a half-hour after smoking, the production of bicarbonate returns to normal. The effects of smoking on how the liver handles drugs also disappear when a person stops smoking.

While doctors suspect that most other digestive abnormalities caused by smoking would also disappear soon after stopping smoking, this question has received little study.


While all the evidence is not yet available, it seems clear that smoking cigarettes plays an important role in causing some digestive diseases. The relationship between heartburn and smoking is very clear. The link between smoking and ulcers, especially duodenal ulcers, seems indisputable. Studies showing that cigarettes affect the way the liver processes drugs, alcohol, and other substances suggest more problems for smokers.

Not all the effects of smoking on the digestive system are understood clearly. However, the evidence that is available makes a powerful statement that smoking is bad for digestive health.

Source: "Smoking and Your Digestive System," Factsheet, National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, NIH Publication No. 95-949, October 1991.

kick the addiction

If you have tried to quit smoking, you know how hard it can be. It is hard because nicotine is a very addictive drug. For some people, it can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine.

Quitting is hard. Usually people make 2 or 3 tries, or more, before finally being able to quit. Each time you try to quit, you can learn about what helps and what hurts.

Quitting takes effort, but you can quit smoking.

great reasons for quitting

Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you will ever do: You will live longer and live better. Quitting will lower your chance of having a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. If you are pregnant, quitting smoking will improve your chances of having a healthy baby. The people you live with, especially your children, will be healthier. You will have extra money to spend on things other than cigarettes.

five keys for quitting

Studies have shown that these five steps will help you quit and quit for good. You have the best chances of quitting if you use them together:

1. Get ready;

2. Get support;

3. Learn new skills and behaviors;

4. Get nicotine gum or patches and use them correctly; and

5. Be prepared for emotionally confronting situations.

1. get ready

Set a quit date and tell all your family members, colleagues and friends. Change your environment. Get rid of ALL cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car, and place of work. Don't let people smoke in your home. Review your past attempts to quit. Think about what worked and what did not. Once you quit, don't smoke - NOT EVEN A PUFF!

2. get support + encouragement

Studies have shown that you have a better chance of being successful if you have help. You can get support in many ways: Tell your family, friends, and coworkers that you are going to quit and want their support. Ask them not to smoke around you or leave cigarettes out. Talk to your health care provider (for example, doctor, dentist, nurse, pharmacist, psychologist, or smoking counselor). Get individual, group, or telephone counseling. The more counseling you have, the better your chances are of quitting. Programs are given at local hospitals and health centers. Call your local health department for information about programs in your area.

3. learn new skills + behaviors

Try to distract yourself from urges to smoke. When you get the urge, ask yourself what you're FEELING underneath and talk to a fellow quitter on a message board about it (see links below). Go for a walk, go to the gym, or get busy with a task. When you first try to quit, change your routine. Use a different route to work. Drink tea instead of coffee. Eat breakfast in a different place. Do something to reduce your stress. Take a hot bath, exercise, or read a book. Plan something enjoyable to do every day. Drink a lot of water and other fluids. And keep checking in with your fellow quitters!

4. buy nicotine gum or patches + use them

These help you stop smoking and lessen the urge to smoke. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved certain medications to help you quit smoking:

- Nicotine gum - available over the counter;

- Nicotine inhaler - available by prescription;

- Nicotine nasal spray - available by prescription; and

- Nicotine patches - Available by prescription and over the counter.

All of these medications will more or less double your chances of quitting and quitting for good. Everyone who is trying to quit may benefit from using a medication.

If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, nursing, under age 18, smoking fewer than 10 cigarettes per day, or have a medical condition, talk to your doctor or other health care provider before taking medications.

5. be prepared for emotionally confronting situations

Most relapses occur within the first 3 months after quitting. Don't be discouraged if you start smoking again. Remember, most people try several times before they finally quit. Here are some difficult situations to watch for:

- Alcohol Avoid drinking alcohol. Drinking lowers your chances of success. Other smokers. Being around smoking can make you want to smoke;

- Weight gain Many smokers will gain weight when they quit, usually less than 10 pounds. Eat a healthy diet and stay active. Don't let weight gain distract you from your main goal-quitting smoking. Some quit-smoking medications may help delay weight gain;

- Bad mood or depression There are a lot of ways to improve your mood other than smoking. If you are having problems with any of these situations, talk to your doctor or other health care provider; and

special situations or conditions

Studies suggest that everyone can quit smoking. Your situation or condition can give you a special reason to quit: -

- Pregnant women / new mothers By quitting, you protect your baby's health and your own.

- Hospitalized patients By quitting, you reduce health problems and help healing.

- Heart attack patients By quitting, you reduce your risk of a second heart attack.

- Cancer patients By quitting, you reduce your chance of a second cancer.

- Parents By quitting, you protect your children and adolescents from illnesses caused by second-hand smoke.

questions to consider

Think about the following questions before you try to stop smoking. You may want to talk about your answers with your health care provider - preferably a homeopath.

  1. Why do you want to quit?
  2. When you tried to quit in the past, what helped and what didn't?
  3. What will be the most difficult situations for you after you quit? How will you plan to handle them?
  4. Who can help you through the tough times? Your family? Friends? Health care provider?
  5. What pleasures do you get from smoking? What ways can you still get pleasure if you quit?

Here are some questions to ask your health care provider - preferably, a homeopath.

- How can you help me to be successful at quitting?

- What homeopathic remedy do you think would be best for me and how should I take it?

- What should I do if I need more help?

- What is smoking withdrawal like?

- How can I get information on withdrawal?

The information in this booklet was taken from Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence, a U.S. Public Health Service-sponsored Clinical Practice Guideline. For information about the guideline or to get more copies of this booklet, call toll free in the USA 800-358-9295, or write to:

Publications Clearinghouse

P.O. Box 8547

Silver Spring, MD 20907



My name is Sharon and I have lung disease. I have three children ages 11, 12 and 13. Life began to get pretty bad for me while I was growing up because I started smoking at the age of 12. I got sick frequently and developed a chronic cough. I didn't know it would affect me even worse when I got older. Now, I can no longer do the simple things that most adults can do. My children are very sad that I can no longer play in the yard with them or go for long walks to the mall or a park.

My last birthday was sad for me. I made a wish and tried to blow out the candles but I could not do it. emphysema has taken away my ability to hope that a dream might come true. What did I wish? I wished I could go back in time and choose NOT to smoke. You see, my dream can never come true. I made a very unwise decision because I thought I could control my destiny. Cigarettes are much too addictive and powerful to control. I have learned my lesson too late.

- Contact me at:

I have emphysema. I would like to give all teenagers a brief description of my life as a person with emphysema. The facts that I provide to you will be a true-life experience of my trials and tribulations of my disease. Young people sometimes do not realize that smoking can destroy their future. They do not understand the problems that can develop from smoking. They do not understand the affect it can have on their health. When I was a young person, I never realized that smoking could diminish the most important factor in my life - my breathing.

When you can't breathe you begin to realize how insignificant a cigarette can be in meeting your daily habit. I wish now I had never had a habit of smoking. I realize now breathing is a life function you can not live without, but cigarettes you can. If you had endured the pain I have suffered throughout the last ten years, you would never smoke a cigarette.

I have had collapsed lungs. I have had my back cut open, and had my lung partially removed. I have also spent months at a time in a hospital away from my family. The suffering is still not over; I now have to have my other lung partially removed. This procedure will prolong my life, for a later lung transplant. Now, do you think I have suffered enough for my desire for a cigarette?

If you smoke you could truly experience my life. I would never wish this disease on anyone. Please, think twice before you smoke. If you smoke now, please stop and remember the story of a lady who destroyed her life for a cigarette.

- We are sorry to report that we lost Glenda on January 15th, 2000

This is the way having emphysema makes me feel. Take a deep breath, blow out 20%, now walk around holding the rest in forever. Do you like to shop for new clothes? For me it is like running track while getting dressed, only you have to stop 3 or 4 times before you finish. It changes your whole life, nothing remains the same!

- Email me at:

I have been approved for a lung transplant. I also am now on full time oxygen where I have to have tubing around my ears and placed in my nose from an oxygen tank so I can breathe in more oxygen than what is in the normal air because my lungs do not work well enough.

When I go outside, I have to wear or carry a tank that has oxygen in it so I can breathe better when I walk. I also now have to sleep with what they call a CPAP. It is like a hat that goes over your head and then hoses blow air into my nose so I can breathe better while I sleep.

I can breathe better, as a matter of fact, if you will follow the instructions I have typed out below, you can tell how I can breathe now.

Sit down somewhere and relax a little and when you feel comfortable, take your right or left hand and with your thumb and forefinger, hold your nose shut. While holding your nose shut, cover your mouth tightly with the rest of your hand so you can just barely breathe through your fingers. Now, walk for about 40 steps and turn around and come back while still breathing through your hand. Now, do you see how hard it is to breathe? Especially when you try to walk around?

That is what emphysema is and that is what smoking can do to you. Not for awhile, but when you are older and it is too late to do anything about it. Please don't even think about smoking.

- Email me at:

For any of you that are interested in seeing just how much the emphysema will affect your lungs take a look at my site:

There is a link there to many pictures of diseased lungs and the first one that comes up is the lungs of a person who passed on due to smoking related causes. When I look at that picture, I feel like I am really looking inside myself at my own lungs. That alone is enough to make me never want to even see another cigarette in my life.

Now I wonder what made me continue to smoke, knowing the dangers of the addiction like I did. I have asked myself many times just why would I do such a thing after all the misery that it was causing me. Call it a death wish, but when it came down to the time when it was quit or die, I chose to live and quit smoking.

That choice does not have to be yours, If you have been a smoker for only a few short years, then your health may or may not be compromised.

You may think that just because you do not feel like it has bothered you that you don't have to quit. But, the disease that smoking can and does cause is emphysema, and it is a sneaky type of ailment. You can have it for years and never realize that you have it. You just automatically adjust your life around the slow changes that come to you and your body.

If you find that you are getting a little short of breath when you walk up a flight of stairs, you start waiting on an elevator, if a couple of blocks walk down to your favorite convenience store is getting too much for you; you send someone for what you want or you drive down there to get what you want. We compensate for those things and go on believing that there is nothing wrong with us, we are just "out-of-shape". There are many other signs that we are going to have problems in breathing should we continue smoking.

- We lost Bud following removal of a nodule on one of his lungs on August 23, 1998. His pages are kept up by a friend and all are welcome.

This is Cristy from TN. I'm wondering if I could get some advice. I am 25 years old, I used to smoke cigarettes, but not anymore. Two years ago, my left lung collapsed and they had to put in a chest tube and found out that I have emphysema.

Now I'm recovering from another bout. In February, my right lung collapsed, they put in a chest tube and put me in the hospital, three days later, my left lung collapsed again and they put in another chest tube, two days later, they decided that I needed surgery on my left lung. When they went in they discovered that emphysema had ate up my upper lobe of my left lung. They had to remove that part of my lung. I then developed pneumonia in both lungs. I still have to have surgery on my right lung. And my doctor has discovered that I have a floating rib.

I just feel like I'm not a whole person anymore, if that makes sense. I have a two year old daughter that I love dearly, But I have such a hard time with her. I just want to pick her up and hold her. And the sad thing is that I hurt too much. I can't pick her up. This all has happened because I was too stupid to stop smoking until now

I quit smoking during the time that I was in the hospital. I didn't want to smoke because my doctor told me that I was lucky cigarettes didn't kill me. I just want to shout to everyone: STOP SMOKING WHILE YOU CAN!

If not, you will lose everything - your family, friends and most of all, your life.

- Email me at:


A healthy life
Learn to breathe
Depression and anger
Learned Helplessness
Learn more about Alice Miller
Learn more about Antonella Gambotto-Burke
Never give up!
The biochemistry of hope

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