Diabetes and Smoking: Another Reason to Quit

Diabetes and Smoking: Another Reason to Quit

As if there are not enough reasons to quit smoking, breaking the habit is even more important if you have diabetes or want to avoid getting it.

Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas, an organ behind your stomach. Normally, the pancreas releases a substance called insulin into the blood. Insulin helps the body use simple sugars and fats that are broken down from the food we eat. When a person has diabetes, the pancreas does not make insulin, doesn’t make enough of it, or the insulin does not work properly. Diabetes is a serious illness and its long-term complications can include eye disease (retinopathy), kidney disease (nephropathy), heart disease, and nerve disease (neuropathy).

How does smoking affect the risk of getting diabetes?

If you smoke and think you are otherwise in good health, think again. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology , smoking 16 to 25 cigarettes a day increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes to three times that of a non-smoker. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chances are of developing diabetes.

Other risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Being of African-American, Hispanic, or Native American race or ethnic background
  • Obesity (20 percent or more over a healthy body weight)
  • Physical stress (including surgery or illness)
  • Use of certain medicines
  • Injury to the pancreas (including infection, tumor, surgery, or accident)
  • Autoimmune disease (person’s immune system attacks the body)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Alcohol (risk increases with years of heavy alcohol use)
  • Having gestational diabetes while pregnant or delivering a baby weighing 9 pounds or more

How does smoking increase complications for people who have diabetes?

While smoking can increase your chances of getting diabetes, it can also make managing diabetes more difficult for those who already have it. Smoking can worsen all of the above complications of high blood sugar, including eye disease, heart disease, stroke, vascular (blood vessel) disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, foot problems, and many others.

Other ways smoking can harm you include:

  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, lung, and bladder
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • High blood pressure
  • Limited joint mobility
  • Increased cholesterol and other fat levels in your blood
  • Impotence
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth

How can I reduce my risk of getting diabetes?

A person with some or all of the risk factors might never develop diabetes, but your chances increase as more risk factors are present. Certain risk factors like age, family history, and ethnicity cannot be changed, but a change in lifestyle that includes eating a modified diet, increasing physical activity, and quitting smoking might help reduce your risk. Ask your doctor for specific recommendations that are right for you.