Cholesterol & Nicotine

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Nicotine causes the level of good cholesterol in people to decrease, but the medical evidence is unclear whether the connection is direct or indirect. According to the Mayo Clinic and other medical researchers, it’s unclear whether it’s the nicotine in tobacco smoke that has a negative effect on cholesterol. However, the evidence that nicotine causes people to keep smoking and that smoking harms cholesterol levels is overwhelming.

Nicotine Causes Smoking

According to the 1988 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Nicotine Addiction, “nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction” to smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes, as well as chewing tobacco. Nicotine has many short-term positive impacts, reports “Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease.” They include reducing stress and anxiety, improving memory and problem-solving, boosting energy and alleviating depression.

Smoking Harms Cholesterol

There are three important blood cholesterol levels--total, good (HDL) and bad (LDL). Smoking harms good cholesterol, which removes bad cholesterol from your heart’s arteries.

“Controlling Cholesterol” documents several studies on smoking and good cholesterol. One, the Framingham (Mass.) Heart Study, studied 4,000 men and women. It concluded that the average smoker’s good cholesterol declined about 12 percent. Male and female smokers had average HDL cholesterol levels 4.5mg per dL and 6.5 mg per dL lower than male and female non-smokers, respectively. The greatest declines were among those smoking 20 or more cigarettes daily.

Passive Smoking Impacts Cholesterol

Passive smoking--breathing the smoke initially inhaled by others--decreases good cholesterol levels, according to “The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure.” Author Robert Kowalski reports that “children have lower HDL counts than do those in homes with non-smoking parents.”

Cholesterol Impacts the Heart

As your good cholesterol declines, your risk of cardiovascular disease increases. A 40- to 59-year-old man has “excellent protection” against heart disease if his HDL is 52mg per dL level, but is at high risk if his HDL is 37mg per dL.

Nicotine Harms the Heart

Nicotine has numerous negative effects on your heart. “Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease” lists damaging the lining of your heart’s arteries as well as many other arteries, decreasing the flow of blood to your heart, forming blockages in your heart’s arteries and significantly increasing your odds of having an irregular heartbeat. All of these negative developments increase your risk of sudden cardiac arrest, reports Ornish.

Smoking With and Without Nicotine

Your mortality rate is two to three times the mortality rate of non-smokers if you smoke more than two packs of cigarettes daily. Citing a report by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, “The Well Adult” reports that smoking cigarettes with very little nicotine does not change this statistic because smokers often inhale low-nicotine cigarettes “more deeply.”

According to “Harvard Women’s Health Watch,” breaking the nicotine and smoking addiction has a very positive impact on your heart and cholesterol. Your good cholesterol levels “rise by as much as 15 percent to 20 percent after you quit,” the publication reports.