Put that cigarette down, NOW.
A new study recently determined that the effects of tobacco smoking go far beyond exterior damage and increasing your risk of cancer by 15 to 30 times. Smoking actually alters your very DNA.
Until recently, it was believed that the damage from smoking was limited to certain aspects of the product, most notably on a smoker's skin and bodily organs. Anti-smoking ads have always been filled with helpful advice about how your body starts to heal just 20 minutes after you've stopped smoking.
While many smokers know the risks of their product, they typically don't think twice about not quitting anyway, because the allure of the addiction is too strong.
Unfortunately, science has once again proven that the dangers of cigarettes go even further than the scary warnings they print on the labels. It gets down and genetic, as a matter of fact.
Most of the damage caused by the toxins in cigarettes will dissipate after five years of quitting, but apparently, some will actually stay there forever, increasing your chances of developing numerous diseases linked to cigarette smoking, even well after you've quit. These lasting damaged bits are created by methylation, which is the process of altering DNA by inactivating a gene or changing how it operates within the body.
On its own, it's a normal process that your DNA can carry out to make sure things get where they need to go. But when your genes are forced into methylation, it leaves lasting damage. This means that when you smoke, your DNA is being physically, permanently altered by the toxins within the cigarette.
Smoking cigarettes will literally hijack your DNA and make it volatile against you. For DECADES.
The study included blood samples from 16,000 people dating back to 1971. The identified smokers within this group all had a very striking pattern: the tobacco-based methylation affected over 7,000 genes in their bodies, which is one-third of all known human genes. Both heart disease and many types of cancers could also be linked to the the genes that were affected by smoking, which meant researchers were able to physically connect these horrific diseases directly to their culprit: cigarettes.
While this news is terrifying for current smokers or those who have smoked, the good news is that once you quit, the majority of the damage does eventually fade.
"Once you stop smoking, the majority of DNA methylation signals return to never-smoker levels after five years, which means your body is trying to heal itself of the harmful aspects of tobacco smoking," said Roby Joehanes, a member of Harvard Medical School and Hebrew SeniorLife.
But don't go wiping away that nervous sweat just yet, because former smokers are not out of the woods. There's a small portion of genetic makeup that remains damaged long after you've quit smoking — in as many as 19 genes — including the TIAM2 gene, which has been linked to the development of lymphoma. It can last as long as 30 years in your cells, increasing your risk for that cancer and many others that may be altered by the 18 other genes that cigarettes have damaged through methylation.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Services, who conducted the study, recognized the importance of the findings for helping people in the future. They believe they will be able to predict who may be at risk for smoking-related diseases, as well as discovering drugs that will help repair the damage done by cigarettes.
Smoking isn't just a nasty habit; it's a deadly one. It ranks in being the number one cause of preventable illnesses, and kills more than 480,000 Americans in a given year, according to the CDC. That's 1 in 5 deaths in the United States alone. Given that the average family is about two parents and 2 to 3 kids, that would be like watching someone in your five-person family die every year from a totally preventable cause of death.
Though smoking has declined in this country, going from about 21 percent of adults smoking (in 2005) to just nearly 17 percent (in 2014), there is still a huge number of smokers that are affecting their future health and happiness for many years to come just for the sake of a single smoke.
So before you light up that cigarette, think about what you're doing to yourself. Not only now, but in the future — and the damaged, higher-than-usual cancer and heart disease risk that you might be passing down in your DNA to future generations.