It’s Never Too Late (Or Too Soon) To Quit, Especially With Diabetes

The good news is that it is never too late to quit. The benefits of quitting can be experienced even when someone has smoked for decades.

Smoking and Diabetes

While all smokers improve their health when they stop lighting up, quitting is especially advantageous for smokers with diabetes. No matter which type of diabetes someone has, smoking makes blood sugar control problematic, and significantly increases the risk of serious diabetes complications. For instance:

  • Both smoking and diabetes are damaging to blood vessels, so putting the two together can be disastrous. Not only are the chances for heart attack and stroke increased, poor circulation - especially in the legs and feet - can lead to infection, ulcers, and sometimes amputation.
  • Smoking can accelerate the progression of diabetic retinopathy, an eye condition that causes vision impairment, and may lead to blindness.
  • Peripheral neuropathy, the nerve damage that causes numbness, pain, weakness, and coordination problems in our limbs, is exacerbated by smoking.
  • Because smoking damages lung tissue, smokers are at higher risk for lung infections, such as pneumonia. These infections are doubly dangerous for those with diabetes, a condition that complicates the healing process.

Smoking also puts us at greater risk for bone fracture, dental problems, cataracts, macular degeneration, mental impairments, and chronic back pain.

What Happens When We Stop

As difficult as it is to stop smoking, it can increase longevity and quality of life, even in those who smoked for years. A German study, for instance, found some damage reversal in lifelong smokers that quit well into their 70s. Those who stop smoking sooner, by 30, 45, or 60 will naturally have more time to reap diabetes-related health benefits:

  • After one day of not smoking anxiety may be high, but the risk of heart attack begins to decline. Blood pressure starts to normalize, and the blood carries more oxygen, so physical activity becomes easier.
  • After two weeks the circulation in our teeth and gums returns to non-smoker levels, improving periodontal health—a concern for those with diabetes.
  • After one month anxiety diminishes, and sleep usually improves. The risk of heart attack continues to decline, and people usually notice less coughing and shortness of breath, plus an increased capacity for activity.
  • After nine months fatigue and shortness of breath are noticeably decreased as the lungs’ cilia regrows and clears out debris. When the lungs become clear the risk for colds and other infection dramatically declines.
  • After one year the risk for heart attack and stroke drops by 50 percent, and it continues to diminish with each non-smoking year that follows.
  • After five years the arteries and bloods vessels are widening, further reducing the chances of stroke, and clot formation. This may lower blood pressure even more. The risk for stroke will continue to drop over the next decade.
  • After 15 years our risk for coronary artery disease - heart attack and stroke - is the same as a non-smoker’s.

After 20 years without smoking a person’s chances of dying from a smoking related cause equals a non-smoker’s chances. By combining those non-smoking years with good glucose management people with diabetes boost their odds for a good quality of life as they age.

Never Too Late

It’s never too late to become a non-smoker, nor is it ever too soon. Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about the best way for you to stop smoking. Doing so can add years to your life and - more importantly - enjoyment of life to those years.

Sources: CDC; Mercola; Healthline
Photo credit: Inaki Perez de Albeniz

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