Ranging from your eyes to your bladder and kidney, throwing out this habit could help more parts of your body than you might think.
You might have heard that quitting smoking can improve the health of your heart and lungs. While these advantages are significant, research is showing that laying your lighter to rest could offer dramatic benefits to other organs in your body that you might not have considered.
“Smoking actually affects pretty much every organ in your body,” says Oliver “Rocky” Mollere, MD, a primary care physician and pediatrician at Ochsner Health Center in Marrero, Louisiana. “I tell my patients, if I were to pick one thing to improve your overall health, quitting smoking is the one thing. It just affects everything.”
With tobacco use cited as the largest preventable cause of death in the United States, it’s worth examining some unexpected effects of quitting.
Among the lesser known benefits of quitting are:
Clearer Sinuses In a study published in July 2017 in the journal Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, researchers found that a history of cigarette smoking was associated with more severe chronic sinusitis, a condition that causes nasal congestion, drainage, pressure, and other issues. The good news? Quitting smoking gradually improved symptoms over a period of about 10 years.
“We were actually able to provide evidence, for the first time, that if these patients stop smoking, their chronic sinusitis starts to approach that of nonsmokers,” says Ahmad R. Sedaghat, MD, PhD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School and sinus surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, who was coauthor of the study. “This is great news because now we have hard data that we can give patients that says your health is going to improve — your sinuses are going to get better.”
Lower Risk of Eye Disease “Your eyes have really concentrated amounts of blood vessels,” Dr. Mollere says. “If you damage the blood flow going to that area by smoking, you will damage the cells, and you can start to lose vision.” Smoking doubles your risk of having age-related macular degeneration. It also raises your chances of developing other eye problems, including uveitis, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. Research has shown that after just one year of quitting smoking, a person’s risk of macular degeneration is reduced by 6.7 percent.
Lower Risk for Bladder Cancer You’ve most likely heard that smoking ups your risk of lung cancer, but it’s also responsible for half of all bladder cancer cases. “Who thinks about bladder cancer and smoking?” says Dr. Sedaghat. “It’s just not something most people have heard about.” Doctors believe that when a person smokes, harmful chemicals accumulate in the urine, which damages the lining of the bladder — the organ that stores urine — and can lead to cancer. Avoid all forms of tobacco to reduce your risk and improve the health of your bladder.
Fewer Wrinkles and Lower Odds of Developing Skin Cancer and Psoriasis No one wants wrinkles, but picking up a cigarette will give you them before your time. “It can really lead to early aging. The skin actually loses its elasticity due to cigarette smoking,” Mollere says. “And it’s a cumulative effect. The more you smoke, the worse your skin is going to look.”
Smoking also sponsors your risk of serious skin conditions, including skin cancer and psoriasis. In fact, it about tripples a person’s chances of developing psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. In a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers found this risk nearly disappears 20 years after someone stops smoking.
Sexual function Smoking can alter how a man’s sexual organ works. “It’s directly linked to erectile dysfunction since it affects the blood vessels,” says Mollere. “Many of my male patients are surprised to hear this.” Sufficient blood flow to the penis is needed to get a firm erection, but chemicals from smoking can affect this process. Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed men who quit smoking significantly improved their erectile dysfunction symptoms.
No It’s Never Too Late to Quit
Quitting might mean a lot of commitment, but the health benefits are worth the pain. “It’s never too late because even if you can’t fully take away a disease, you can at least slow down the growth of it,” Mollere says.
Looking for a program that addresses both your physical and psychological dependence is a necessity. For a lot of people, it takes several attempts to quit for good. Mollere says while treatment approaches will vary depending on the individual, his best advice is to come up with a plan for what happens when you have a craving after quitting.
“It could be going outside or calling someone or leaving a specific situation. It might be chewing on a toothpick. I don’t care. You just need to have a plan,” Mollere says.
The bottom line? While never lighting up a cigarette to begin with is the best idea for maintaining health, quitting smoking can also provide some major positive benefits.