How Heart Disease Develops From Smoking

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Researchers have discovered that smoking may lead to insulin resistance -a pre-diabetic state – that in turn contributes to the development of heart disease. Scientists have not been certain why smoking leads to heart disease, especially given the fact that nicotine and smoking cause weight loss, thus reducing risk of heart disease.

Pre-diabetes and diabetes are known risk factors for heart disease. Insulin resistance affects the body’s ability to use insulin properly, leading to poor glucose metabolism. Scientists at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles and Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona found that mice injected with nicotine had decreased appetites and lost weight. They also had impaired glucose tolerance, showing that nicotine from smoking may lead to heart disease because it leads to insulin resistance.

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Studies in humans also show that smoking leads to higher than normal blood sugar levels, making smokers more susceptible to diabetes and heart disease. Scientists have not known if other factors are at play, or if insulin resistance comes directly from the effects of nicotine.

According to lead researcher Theodore Friedman, MD, Ph.D., chief of the endocrinology division at Charles Drew University, smoker should be a less risk of heart disease, considering the fact that “both smoking and nicotine may cause weight loss and weight loss should protect against cardiovascular disease." The findings that smoking leads to insulin resistance may lead the scientists to medications that can block the effect of nicotine, reducing risk of heart disease in smokers.

"Our results suggest that decreasing insulin resistance may reduce the heart disease seen in smokers," says Dr. Friedman. Reducing risk of heart disease in smokers could be accomplished with new drugs with less bothersome side effects. Drugs specific enough to block the harmful effects of nicotine may reduce heart disease in smokers, now that researchers know how smoking leads to heart disease.

Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science

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