No doubt you’ve heard about the deleterious effects smoking can have on your lungs and heart, but did you know smoking also increases your risk of certain digestive disorders?
Smoking irritates the digestive tract, boosting the chances that you’ll suffer from heartburn, peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and colon polyps.
Smoking and Heartburn: This burning sensation in the chest is the result of acid reflux -- the back flow of the stomach’s acidic contents into the esophagus. Smoking decreases the strength of the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve at the bottom of the esophagus that helps prevent this acid reflux. In addition, smoking may make stomach acid more damaging because it appears to promote the movement of bile salts (substances used in the digestion of fat) from the small intestine into the stomach.
Smoking and Peptic Ulcers: Smoking raises the risk of developing a peptic ulcer -- an open sore in the lining of the stomach or the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine). Smokers are particularly prone to ulcers in the duodenum, and when a smoker gets a peptic ulcer, the ulcer heals more slowly and is more likely to cause death than in a nonsmoker. It also appears that smoking may increase the amount of stomach acid you produce, and interfere with the ability of the body to neutralize that acid.
Smoking and Crohn’s Disease: Smoking increases the risk of developing Crohn’s disease, an inflammation in the lining of the intestines. Smoking also increases the risk of symptom flare-ups after treatment, the need for repeat surgeries to remove sections of the intestines, and the need for aggressive treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. It’s been hypothesized that smoking might cause these negative effects by impairing blood flow or the immune response in the intestines. Smoking may also prompt changes in the immune system that lead to inflammation.
Smoking and Colon Polyps: Two studies have found that smoking increases the chances of developing polyps (precancerous growths) in the colon; smokers are also more likely to have a greater number of polyps than nonsmokers, and to have larger polyps. The risk of polyps increases by 4% for every year you smoke. Researchers are uncertain why smoking might increase the risk of colon polyps.
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health -- including your gastrointestinal health. By quitting, you can often reverse the damage to your body, no matter how long you’ve smoked. And remember, you’re never too old to quit smoking. In fact, studies show that people over age 65 are more likely to succeed in quitting than younger people.