Smoking and Multiple Sclerosis:
The Connection You Can't Afford to Ignore
by Elizabeth Linden
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide. It is responsible for the development of over 50 serious and even fatal diseases and the list just seems to be growing. Given that cigarettes have 7000 toxins and over 70 that are already known to cause cancer, this is not surprising. Smoking is also thought to be connected in triggering the onset of genetic diseases that may be lying dormant in your body. One of these serious and sometimes fatal diseases is Multiple Sclerosis.
Many older individuals, like my husband, are just finding out the role that cigarettes play in the course of their disease. My husband, Anders, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 2001. His first episode happened at work while giving a presentation to his colleagues. It became quite noticeable that he was losing his ability to speak clearly as one side of his face was drooping. Within half an hour, he lost all feeling in his left leg. After a trip to the hospital, he received his diagnosis. It was Multiple Sclerosis. At the time, he smoked nearly two packs a day and didn’t have much desire to quit. There wasn’t an urgent reason to quit. At the time, most people thought that diseases caused by cigarettes took years of puffing away to acquire. So, Anders had a few more bad MS flare-ups over the next two years, while still puffing away. A great motivator came when he had two beautiful children with his ex-wife. He really didn’t want to raise his children around smoke, so he found the motivation to quit. As time passed, he noticed that his MS symptoms flared up less. He attributes the decline in flare ups to his smoking cessation. Twenty-two years later, his doctor is still impressed by his good health and ability to function well at work.
What the Research Shows
As it turns out, there is a great deal of research to support that the progression of MS can be slowed down by smoking cessation. Furthermore, recent research shows that the disease could be prevented altogether for some if they never start in the first place.
Toxins and the Nervous System
When a person smokes, the nicotine enters the bloodstream and crosses the brain within a matter of seconds. Free radicals, cyanates, and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke are toxic to neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Since MS patients may have genetic predisposition towards the disease, these neurotoxins may trigger its onset. Patients with MS who continue to smoke have higher rates of disease activity, faster rates of brain atrophy, and a greater disability burden. There is good news, however. If an affected person discontinues smoking, some of these outcomes have been found to be reversible which is very promising.
If you have a genetic predisposition for a neurological disease such as Multiple Sclerosis, it is extremely important to find a smoking cessation program that works for you as soon as possible. Better yet, don’t pick up a smoking habit regardless of who you are. There are no safe tobacco products. They are all toxic. For everyone.
Elizabeth Linden is a retired special education teacher with 25 years of experience. She has a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a master’s degree in Health Psychology. Liz has been an advocate for the educational needs of special education students throughout her career as well as an advocate for her own medical needs as a person with a rare headache disorder. Liz is also a Senior Anchor with The Power of the Patient Project, and her interviews are featured throughout our digital library.
February 2023 page 6