An estimated 40 million people current suffer from smoking addiction in the United States, and according to a recently released study, there is a very strong chance that smokers are developing long-term DNA damage as a result. According to the study, the DNA damage can affect approximately one-third of the smoker’s genetic makeup, lasting anywhere from 5- to 30-years.
The study involved regular analysis of blood samples obtained from some 16,000 participants, including current smokers, former smokers, and never-smokers. The team of nearly sixty of the world’s top scientists discovered that while most of the genetic damage would repair itself within five years or less, some nineteen individual genes can take as long as 30-years to recover.
One of these is the TIAM2 gene, commonly linked to lymphoma and other related medical conditions. The other eighteen genes are often associated with such smoking-related disorders as heart disease, lung and respiratory ailments, osteoporosis, and several forms of cancer. According to the research, smoking – including second-hand smoke- can cause a process known as methylation that ultimately facilitates the gene change and resulting DNA damage.
“Our study has found compelling evidence that smoking has a long-lasting impact on our molecular machinery, an impact that can last more than 30 years…The encouraging news is that once you stop smoking, the majority of DNA methylation signals return to never-smoker levels after five years, which means your body is trying to heal itself of the harmful impacts of tobacco smoking.” – Chief Researcher Roby Joehanes, instructor and scientist at Harvard Medical School and the Hebrew SeniorLife Institute for Aging Research
DNA damage might also be passed down from mother to child
Most scientific research regarding smoking during pregnancy tends to focus on the immediate adverse effects of the child, such as low body weight, preterm birthrates, respiratory disorders, and other birth defects. However, this latest report sponsored by the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park shows mounting evidence that more severe, irreparable damage may also result. Newborns whose mothers were long-term smokers have an increased risk of developmental and behavioral problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and even adult-diagnosed diabetes later in life.
The scientists agree that the research results are by no means conclusive and that further research is needed to determine just how consistently the possible DNA damage can occur in smokers. They also agree that possible exposures of a multitude of other environmental toxins may come into play. However, they do firmly state that their study provides “compelling evidence that smoke has a long-lasting impact on our molecular machinery.” The paper entitled Epigenetic Signatures of Cigarette Smoking is published in the medical journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics, Volume 9, Issue 4.
Article Credit: Matt Rowland