How Does Smoking Impact Your Cholesterol?

Smoking is known to harm many areas of your health.

Most people are aware that smoking can damage your lungs and increase cancer risk. Roughly 90% of lung cancer cases in the US are linked to smoking.

There seems to be less attention paid to the fact that smoking also has a significant impact on the health of your heart.

People who smoke have a significantly higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and suffering from a stroke. According to the American Heart Association, nearly one-third of all deaths from coronary heart disease result from smoking.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy material produced by your liver and plays an essential role in the structure of cell membranes. It’s also needed for cellular signaling and protein sorting, and it serves as a precursor for steroid hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and vitamin D.

Cholesterol molecules are hydrophobic and don’t move around very well on their own, so they need to be transported through your bloodstream by lipoproteins.

The two most common cholesterol lipoproteins are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL particles transport cholesterol into your peripheral tissues, such as your muscles and skin.

HDL runs this process in reverse, bringing the cholesterol out of the tissues and back to your liver to be recycled into new structural molecules.

When your LDL levels are too high and HDL levels are too low, lipids can accumulate in your blood vessels, forming plaques that narrow and stiffen your arteries. This then elevates your blood pressure and increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The Link Between Smoking and Cholesterol

People who smoke cigarettes tend to have significantly higher LDL levels and lower HDL levels than nonsmokers.

One possible mechanism for this is that the absorption of nicotine leads to the secretion of catecholamines, cortisol, and growth hormones, resulting in the breakdown and release of free fatty acids, increasing the synthesis of triglycerides and lipoproteins.

Also, cigarette smoke contains high levels of a compound called acrolein, which prevents HDL from transporting cholesterol the way it’s supposed to.

Reversing Heart Damage By Quitting Smoking

After a year of no more prolonged smoking, your risk of heart disease and heart attacks is halved. Within 15 years, that risk is reduced to the same level as someone who has never smoked.

Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. If you’re a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health is quit.

When you are ready to quit, many resources are available to help you. Trying to quit “cold turkey” without medication or support is often unsuccessful. Ask your doctor about pharmaceutical and therapeutic interventions to assist you in stopping.