You’ve finally decided to quit smoking cigarettes and improve your health. Ask any medical expert and he'll say quitting smoking can make you breathe easier and cut down on your risks for cancer and other diseases. But if you're worrying it will take years to reverse some of the effects of smoking, you may be surprised to find that benefits actually start much sooner than you think.
Smoking’s effects on the lungs are quite extensive. To begin with, there are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 of which are known to be harmful, such as hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia, according to the National Cancer Institute. These poisonous gases paralyze the cilia, or tiny hair-like structures, that sweep out dirt and mucus, leading to clogged airways. In addition, the carbon monoxide saps oxygen from your blood. The hot cigarette smoke dries out the lining of your airways, making them sore, and increased levels of mucus in your lungs help breed infections. Finally, smoke irritation deep inside your lungs may cause permanent damage to the structures that help circulate oxygen throughout your body.
According to the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people die from lung cancer than any other type, and cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of those deaths. Smoking is considered to be the most preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S. The American Lung Association adds that if you quit smoking after being diagnosed with early stage lung cancer, you can still double the odds that you’ll live another five years, thanks to the improvement in your lung capacity and removal of cigarette toxins.
You’ll experience many lung benefits from quitting smoking. You’ll breathe more easily, your lungs will become stronger and make it easier to be active, and your cough will go away. In addition, your lungs will be better able to fight off infections.
Within 12 hours of quitting smoking, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop to normal, and your blood oxygen levels increase to normal. Within 72 hours, the bronchial tubes in your lungs are beginning to relax, making it easier to breathe and increasing your lung function. Within a few weeks, your lungs will produce less phlegm, and you won’t cough or wheeze as often. This is due to the cilia regrowing in your lungs and increasing their ability to handle mucus, keep your lungs clean and reduce infections. Within one to nine months, your coughing and shortness of breath will decrease. Within 10 years, your risk from dying of lung cancer is half that of a smoker’s, notes WomensHealth.gov.
You can help assist your lungs in detoxing from cigarette smoke. One study at Kansas State University, published in the “Journal of Nutrition” in 2000, found that one of the carcinogens in cigarettes causes a vitamin A deficiency and that rats fed a vitamin A-rich diet significantly reduced their emphysema and lung inflammation. The American Lung Association of Washington also recommends using breathing exercises, participating in aerobic exercise, avoiding air pollution, and keeping up to date on your influenza and pneumonia vaccinations. You should also add more grains, fruits and vegetables to your diet and cut out the junk foods. Drinking plenty of liquids will also help make breathing easy and assist in preventing infections. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can slow your breathing.
- Healthfinder.gov: Quit Smoking
- PubMed: Vitamin A Deficiency Injures Lung and Liver Parenchyma and Impairs Function of Rat Type II Pneumocytes
- WomensHealth.gov: Smoking and How to Quit
- American Lung Association: Information for Smokers and Nonsmokers
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Lung Cancer Statistics