You’d have to have been living on the moon to be unaware that smoking is bad for your health. But did you know that it’s not just your lungs and heart that are affected? Smoking also disrupts gut function and damages your overall digestive health. Here are just some of the reasons why quitting smoking would be good news for your gut.
How smoking affects your digestive health
- Smoking exacerbates IBS symptoms – IBS is a debilitating long-term condition characterised by stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. It is believed to be linked to stress, low level inflammation, food intolerances and changes to colon motility. Smoking can irritate the digestive system, provoking a stress response in the body which can make IBS symptoms worse. It also disrupts gut bacteria – believed to be one of the causal factors in IBS.
- Smoking increases the risk of digestive cancers – the link between smoking and lung cancer is well-documented but less well known is the link between smoking and other cancers of the digestive system. Smokers have up to a 25% higher chance of developing bowel cancer than non-smokers. If you smoke you are also more at risk of developing stomach cancer and oesophageal cancer.
- Smoking affects gut bacteria – a growing body of evidence shows that our gut bacteria has a direct effect on our overall health and wellbeing. Experts use the term “gut microbiome” to describe this sensitive environment that is home to trillions of micro-bacteria. It is easily disrupted and one of the factors that can throw our gut bacteria off balance is smoking. If you quit smoking, the gut microbiome will return to a more healthy, balanced state which will impact your overall health.
- Smoking can cause stomach ulcers and polyps – smokers are at higher risk of developing stomach ulcers, which can cause internal bleeding. They may also be more prone to polyps in the colon. These common growths can sometimes develop into bowel cancer over time if left untreated and gastrointestinal surgeons recommend removing them to prevent this.
- Smoking can cause heartburn – acid reflux, more commonly called heartburn, is uncomfortable and can become chronic, referred to as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). GORD can be debilitating and have a significant impact on quality of life. Smoking is one of a range of lifestyle factors that can cause or aggravate heartburn.
Keeping a symptom diary for IBS
To prove to yourself that smoking may be affecting symptoms of IBS, you could start an IBS symptom diary. Include everything you eat, drink and when you smoke to see if there is any correlation to your symptoms and your smoking habits, as well as your eating habits.
Want to quit smoking?
Giving up smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing. In addition to improving your digestive health, it will:
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 50% or more.
- Prolong your life by up to nine years.
- Reduce your risk of a whole range of health conditions including diabetes, lung cancer, throat cancer and emphysema.
A range of free support is available on the NHS to help people give up smoking. These include:
- Treatments such as nicotine replacement products (patches, gum and inhalers), and tables (Champix and Zyban).
- One-to-one and group sessions to support you to stop smoking.
- An emergency number to help you cope with cravings.
The NHS Stop Smoking service includes a comprehensive website, inspirational success stories and tips on quitting smoking.
Cancer Research UK reports that using e-cigarettes increases people’s chance of success when they quit smoking by around 60%.
E-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes because they produce vapour from nicotine dissolved in propylene glycol or glycerine but do not contain tobacco.