Cigarette smoke leaves a lasting impact on the smoker by altering genetic information carried on the smoker’s DNA. DNA is altered through a process called methylation, which prevents gene expression by turning off genes.
Within five years of smoking cessation, most damage caused by DNA methylation can be reversed. However, some altered genetic information may remain for at least 30 years, potentially impacting the heart health of both current and former smokers.
This is the conclusion of a recent study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics. The researchers investigated the extent of genetic damage caused by cigarette smoke. They examined the blood samples of 15,907 participants and identified sites of DNA methylation. Participants were classified into three groups: 2,433 current smokers, 6,518 former smokers, and 6,956 never smokers.
The researchers identified 1,405 genes that were altered between current and never smokers. Importantly, the altered genes were linked to smoking-related diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Approximately 185 of the genetic changes identified in current smokers were retained in former smokers, indicating the lifelong effects of smoking on genetic information and health outcomes.
The best way to reduce the health risks associated with smoking is to quit. Here are some tips to start:
- Join a smoking cessation program or support group such as 1-800-QUIT-NOW
- Talk to your doctor about medications designed to help smokers quit smoking
- Identify the people, places, or situations that make you feel like smoking, and try to avoid them
Whatever methods work for you, not smoking will improve the health of your body and heart.