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Nicotine and Smoking Key Factors in Diabetes Complications


Scientists have announced there is a link between smoking and nicotine and persistently elevated blood glucose levels, which leads to an increased risk of diabetes complications. The findings, presented at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), highlight the dangers of smoking among people who have diabetes.

Diabetes complications can be prevented

Diabetes complications present enormous health challenges. Having diabetes increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, nerve damage (neuropathy), cataracts, blindness, kidney failure, amputation, gum disease, and other health issues. These complications can be prevented or delayed if diabetics follow proper treatment and recommended lifestyle habits, including not smoking.

Previous research has shown that maintaining good control of blood glucose (sugar) levels is necessary to help prevent development of diabetic complications. Two effective ways to monitor blood sugar levels are a periodic blood test that measures hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and daily blood testing at home. High levels of HbA1c and blood sugar increase a person’s risk of complications.

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Although experts have known for many years that smoking increases the risk of developing diabetic complications and that people with diabetes who smoke have higher levels of HbA1c than nonsmoking diabetics, the substance responsible for elevated HbA1c was not known.

This latest study, presented at the ACS gathering by Xiao-Chuan Liu, PhD, with the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, is the first strong evidence that nicotine is the main factor behind elevated HbA1c levels. Liu and his team analyzed blood samples and discovered that “nicotine caused levels of HbA1c to rise by as much as 34 percent,” according to Liu.

The nicotine in cigarettes is not the only concern. Smoking cessation products such as nicotine patches and gums and electronic cigarettes, if used for a prolonged period, may have the same effect, noted Liu.

Overall, the message from this study is that people with diabetes who smoke are at increased risk of developing diabetic complications, and that nicotine is the culprit. Anyone with diabetes who smokes should get help to quit smoking as soon as possible.

American Chemical Society