By now, it’s been widely established that smoking affects cardiovascular and pulmonary health. The CDC attributes nearly 90% of lung cancer deaths to smoking or secondhand exposure to cigarette or tobacco smoke. But what’s less known are the ill effects of smoking on gut health, and how it disrupts how the digestive system converts food into the nutrients that the body needs.
Here’s everything you need to know about smoking and your gut, from the common disorders and changes in the gut microbiome to the ways that you can improve your gut health.
How smoking affects gut health
Although not usually the primary cause, smoking has been linked to peptic ulcers, which are painful open sores in the lining of the stomach or duodenum. Smokers are found to be more likely to develop and less likely to heal from ulcers compared to nonsmokers since smoking increases the risk for infection from the bacteria commonly found in ulcers (Helicobacter pylori). Since smoking can be a major risk factor for cancers almost anywhere in the body, smokers are also more vulnerable to developing cancers in the gastrointestinal tracts and organs such as the esophagus, stomach, bowels, and colon.
Research also suggests that apart from stress and unbalanced diets, lifestyle choices like smoking can throw off gut bacteria balance. Nature published an article on smoking’s disruptive effects on the small bowel luminal microbiome, specifically in increasing the relative abundance of Lactobacillaceae and Enterobacteriaceae. This in turn affects overall microbial diversity and disrupts the functions of microbes when it comes to digestion, nutrient absorption, and gut barrier integrity.
When smoking inflames the digestive tract and decreases probiotic bacteria levels, it can also lead to leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome happens when intestinal permeability increases, to the extent that intestinal walls can no longer prevent bacteria, toxins, and even undigested food from entering the bloodstream. Damages in the gut microbiome can also profoundly exacerbate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) like abdominal pain, constipation, and bloating.
How to improve your gut health
Because of all the major risk factors that smoking poses to gut health, the best way to prevent the damage from escalating is to stop smoking. The cold-turkey strategy for quitting smoking often leads to withdrawal symptoms, so smokers may need to employ cessation aids like nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
NRT products include Nicorette nicotine gums and lozenges, which help you absorb nicotine in your mouth upon chewing. But since the sensation from gums and lozenges only last for about 15 minutes, the On! nicotine pouches available on Prilla have three different nicotine levels depending on the dose you need. These oral NRT products are commonly offered in multiple flavors, and they help ease the transition for smokers by helping them satisfy their nicotine cravings without having to harm their gut and overall health.
Outside of quitting smoking, you can better manage and restore your gut bacteria balance through dietary changes. A previous article on How to Naturally Repair Leaky Gut emphasizes the importance of pairing smoking cessation with a proper diet in order to balance your probiotic levels. You can opt for probiotic supplements, while also eating more probiotic foods like sauerkraut and increasing your fiber intake through onions, leeks, and bananas.
As with all matters concerning health, these changes must be integrated with other lifestyle choices like proper sleep, stress management, and regular exercise. A healthy gut improves overall body health as it contributes to effective digestion, brain functioning, and a strong immune system.