Did you know that smoking cigarettes prolongs the time it takes your body to heal following a surgery or injury? Studies have consistently shown that some chemical components of cigarette smoke interact with the body such that your tissues don’t get the oxygen needed to stimulate healing. Oxygen is required for most of the metabolic activities the cells perform to heal the body’s injured tissues, so when oxygen is in short supply, those tissues cannot heal as rapidly. Smoking also delays healing time by blocking the body’s ability to produce new blood cells and immune cells.
Three chemicals have been identified as problematic: nicotine, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen cyanide. Let’s look at nicotine first. Nicotine is a “vasoconstrictor”; that means that it causes blood vessels to narrow, making it harder for oxygen molecules to travel through them to the damaged tissue. This especially affects the tiniest blood vessels in the body, called capillaries. Nicotine also makes blood easier to clot; it makes the blood stickier. When little tiny clots form in the smaller blood vessels of the body, it constricts blood flow (and oxygen transport) through those vessels.
Nicotine also blocks the body’s ability to make new red blood cells, as well as certain types of immune cells. Red blood cells are necessary to transport oxygen through the blood and into the tissues where it is needed. Immune cells are important players in the body’s response to injury, helping to “clean up” debris and dead cells during the healing process. Therefore, ingesting nicotine slows your body’s ability to protect and repair itself following an injury or surgery.
Carbon monoxide is a chemical which makes it harder for oxygen to bind to red blood cells. This is necessary in order for oxygen to be transported into the cells of damaged areas; therefore, ingesting carbon monoxide results in less efficient delivery of oxygen where it is needed.
Finally, hydrogen cyanide impairs the metabolism of oxygen at the cellular level. This means that even if oxygen makes it into the area where it is needed, its actions are blocked by this chemical.
These are things to consider for any smoker who has had an injury or recent surgery and is in the rehabilitative process. Progress may be slowed by the effects of chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Therefore, reducing or eliminating smoking will help you in the following ways:
- Allow the body to produce blood cells and immune cells without limitation
- Help prevent unnecessary clots from forming
- Keep blood flowing through the tiny capillaries
- Allow more oxygen to bind to hemoglobin, making it accessible to tissues
- Allow injured cells to metabolize oxygen more efficiently fueling the healing process