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Think you know how bad cigarette smoke is for your health? Swallow this fact: Every puff of a cigarette contains about 4,700 different chemicals and 100 trillion free radical molecules. These reactive substances damage lung tissue by chemically reacting with DNA, cell membranes and other molecules in the lung.
Scientists believe the only reason cigarette smoking isn’t more dangerous is the fact that the lungs protect themselves with the antioxidant glutathione that’s in fluid bathing the airways. The antioxidant reacts with the reactive species in tobacco smoke, thus preventing damaging reactions with lung tissue.
“This natural protective response actually allows people to smoke,” said Brian Day, a professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver and a researcher who has investigated the effects of tobacco smoke. “Without it, all smokers would suffer significantly more lung damage.”
Day’s studies indicate that the smokers who succumb to lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are probably made more vulnerable to these problems because of infections that compromise the lung’s immune defenses.