The negative health effects of smoking are almost immeasurable in number. Smokers are at a higher risk for a wide range of cancers, particularly lung and throat cancers, as well as lifelong shortness of breath and an appearance of rapid ageing. It turns out, though, that the appearance of rapid ageing caused by smoking may not just be appearances at all. Telomeres, which are a key health and ageing biomarker, are severely affected by cigarette smoking.
Telomeres are the protective end-caps of chromosomes, and they are closely associated with health and ageing. Each time a cell in the body divides, the telomere becomes shorter, until it reaches a point that it no longer adequately protects cells, and the cells cease to divide altogether. Short telomeres mean a higher likelihood of developing cancers and eventually death.
One study, for example, correlated smoking with shorter telomeres and bladder cancers. According to the authors, “We also observed a significant difference in telomere length across categories of pack-years of smoking. These findings suggest that truncated telomeres are associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer.”
Other studies have confirmed the fact that smoking cigarettes shortens telomeres significantly more rapidly than they would have otherwise.
However, the future need not be so bleak. Quitting smoking today is a great strategy to preserve your telomeres and overall health. Studies are limited on the effects of smoking cessation on telomere length, so if you are considering quitting, we would strongly encourage your participation in our citizen science project on Indiegogo to determine the effect of cigarette smoking cessation on telomere length over time. Of course, for your support and participation, we will share the relevant data with you, so that you may quantify your cellular health improvements personally.