Cigarette smoking has always been bad for your health. No news there.
It causes cancer and damages your lungs, heart, blood, blood vessels, skin and teeth. Healthwise, there are no redeeming qualities.
But just this month, researchers have revealed another major risk for smokers… frightening news about how smoking puts you at high risk for a serious COVID-19 infection.
But there’s good news too… if you can cut back or quit now…
Cigarette smoke puts out the welcome mat for COVID-19
When the coronavirus virus enters the human body, it does so by attaching to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2). It grabs onto this protein and hitches a ride right into your cells.
Our lungs are full of these ACE-2 proteins. This is exactly why, from day one, health care workers were seeing devasting effects in the lungs of people infected.
Now, research from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York shows that exposure to cigarette smoke drastically increases the number of these coronavirus “connection points” in the lungs, making smokers far more likely to develop serious COVID-19 infections.
From the beginning of the pandemic, scientists have noticed that three groups of people have been significantly more likely to develop serious infections: men, the elderly and smokers.
Jason Sheltzer of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, along with Joan Smith, an engineer at Google, dug into previously published data to try and find out why these groups are more susceptible.
They found no evidence that either age or gender was affecting ACE-2 levels in the lungs.
But smoking was a different story, Sheltzer says.
“When we put it all together and started analyzing it, we saw that both mice that had been exposed to smoke in a laboratory and humans who were current smokers had significant upregulation of ACE-2.”
The irony of goblet cells
What’s sadly ironic is that this increase in ACE-2 proteins is generated by a type of cell that normally is a protector.
Smoking is known to increase the presence of mucus-producing goblet cells.
The normal job of goblet cells is to secrete mucus that will protect the respiratory tract from the irritants of cigarette smoke. Their goblet-like shape comes from the way one end of the cell is swollen with mucus.
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But goblet cells are also the most prolific producers of ACE-2 proteins.
This is why smoking is like putting out a million little welcome mats that invite the coronavirus to invade your lungs and cause rampant infection.
But there is good news.
The research by Sheltzer and Smith also revealed that the level of ACE-2 in the lungs of people who had quit smoking was similar to that of non-smokers.
Tips for quitting smoking
Two things are clear.
One is that smoking makes you much, much more vulnerable to a serious COVID-19 infection.
And the other is that quitting is no easy task.
Research says that going ‘cold turkey’ has the best long-term results.
But if you’re just not there yet, don’t despair.
Research also tells us that you will be more successful if you don’t go it alone. If you can partner up with a spouse, family member, or even a friend in another household, your chances of success will be even better.
During this pandemic, you can take advantage of the American Lung Association’s online smoking cessation and accountability program, Freedom From Smoking.
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- Smoking increases SARS-CoV-2 receptors in the lung — Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
- The Effects of Smoking on the Body — Healthline
- Your Journey to a Smokefree Life Starts Here — The American Lung Association