Smoking and Diabetes- Not a Good Idea

December 8, 2014 9:00 am



It is no secret that smoking is bad for you. Hundreds of studies have been published on the subject, and most people can tell you the hazards of smoking without even googling it. But if you have diabetes and smoke, that is a whole other ball game. Diabetes in itself can lead to severe complications that include heart disease, stroke, circulation problems, nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney disease and more; smoking adds to the risk of developing these complications. In some cases, smoking can even double the risk of developing these conditions, in addition to doubling the chances of suffering from erectile dysfunction. In addition, smoking makes diabetes-management much more difficult, as blood sugars are higher.

How does smoking raise the risk of diabetes-related complications?

Smoking and diabetes increase the risk of developing heart disease in a similar manner- both high sugar levels and smoking damage the arteries and facilitate accumulation of fatty deposits in “pockets” on artery walls. That, in turn, causes blood vessels to narrow and make blood circulation more difficult. Heart attacks occur when this happens in coronary arteries (arteries that bring oxygen to the heart), and strokes- when this happens in arteries in the brain.

Researchers have known for quite a while that people with diabetes who smoke have higher blood sugar levels, and their diabetes is much more difficult to control and manage. But what component or components of cigarettes cause blood sugar levels to rise?

Recently, a research group based in California found that nicotine is the main culprit in cigarettes when referring to raised blood sugar levels. Nicotine, when added to human blood samples, raised levels of hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), and the more nicotine that was present, the higher the blood sugar levels were. The smallest dose increased HbA1C levels by 8.8 percent. The highest dose — after two days of nicotine treatment — increased blood sugar levels by 34.5 percent! The levels of nicotine used in the study were equivalent to those found in a smoker’s body- from light smokers to very heavy smokers.

HbA1C is a measure of the percentage of red blood cells that have glucose molecules attached to them. In diabetes management, the HbA1C — sometimes referred to just as A1C —gives doctors an idea of average blood sugar levels for the past three months or so. Most people with diabetes strive for a level of 7 percent or less, based on American Diabetes Association guidelines.

These preliminary results shed light on how smoking causes blood sugar levels to rise, but more studies are needed to confirm the data in humans. What is certain is that if you have diabetes and you smoke, your blood sugars will be higher and harder to control. Take this into account and test more often to see for yourself.

These results also suggest that nicotine replacement products aren’t a safe option for people with diabetes if used for long periods of time, because they might raise HbA1c levels just as cigarettes do. So if you have diabetes and are trying to quit- cold turkey is the best option for you.

Can smoking lead to developing diabetes?

Smoking is a proven risk factor for insulin resistance, which often leads to diabetes. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, smoking around a pack of cigarettes a day increases your risk for type 2 diabetes three fold. So yes, smoking can lead to diabetes, among all of the other possible health risks smoking caries. So if you are a smoker, and have other risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, you are going down a slippery slope.

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-written by Liran Julia Grunhaus