Smoking is harmful for everyone, but for people with diabetes or people at high risk of developing the disease, lighting up can be even more harmful. Do you know why?
Written by diabetes coach Hildegunn Fossheim
Many GPs find it difficult to discuss smoking habits with their diabetic patients. I myself sometimes have a hard time taking up with my patients that I recommend them to stop smoking. This difficulty is probably caused by a desire to maintain a good relationship with my client, and the fact that I don’t want to scare them off because it’s extremely important that they keep coming to their regular check ups – regardless of their smoking status. This is particularly unfortunate since smoking is likely to double the risk of diabetes complications such as blindness, nerve damage, amputations, kidney failure, stroke and heart problems.
WHY STOP SMOKING
Smoking contributes to increased insulin resistance, which means that the body needs more insulin to maintain a stable glucose level. This makes the blood sugar more difficult to control, thus increases the risk of developing diabetes complications. Researchers have long known that smoking greatly aggravates the health of people with diabetes. A study published in 2011, finally gave an answer to why: the nicotine in cigarettes (1).
Nicotine has been proven to increase the level of hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) by as much as 34% (1). Hemoglobin A1c – a combination of hemoglobin (which carries oxygen) and glucose – is a standard indicator of the average blood glucose level in the body (long-term glucose levels). A high level of HbA1c damages the blood vessels so that fat builds up much more easily, thus clogging the arteries. The result is a reduced blood flow to the rest of the body that puts you at a much greater risk of developing diabetes complications. For example, low blood circulation reduces the blood flow to the brain hence increasing the risk of stroke, while the body’s reduced ability to transport oxygen to the heart leads to heart attacks.
In other words, you don’t need to be Albert Einstein to understand that smoking isn’t particularly beneficial for people with diabetes. Moreover, smoking leads to more wrinkles, women experience the menopause much younger, and it damages men’s sperm. Who wants to experience that?
HIGH NUMBER OF DIABETICS THAT SMOKE
Despite this, the number of Norwegian smokers with diabetes type 1 was a wowing 41% in 2005, while the proportion of smokers with diabetes type 2 accounted for 25% (2). When I was first introduced to these statistics, I could not believe it – it means that there are an inconceivable number of people that start smoking after they were diagnosed with diabetes type 1. But then it hit me: the need to fit in as a teenager is huge. And we know that the teenage-rebellion for diabetics is often more prominent because of the need to feel like everyone else is especially strong, and it’s important to detach oneself from the diabetes-stamp. I have not read a study about this connection between diabetic-teenagers and smoking but I guess this must be the reason.
Good news for you that smoke – no matter how long you have been smoking, quitting will lower your risk of heart problems and other complications significantly!