Smoking is responsible for elevating multiple health risks, including heart disease and several types of cancer. For diabetics, however, the stakes are especially high.
A study has revealed that nicotine is responsible for blood sugar levels remaining high over an extended period of time in smokers who have diabetes.
The study was presented at the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society. The lead author, Xiao-Chuan Liu, PhD, is a researcher at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona California and presented the study’s results at the meeting. Liu stressed the importance of the findings, indicating that the results are the first to establish a clear link between nicotine and complications for diabetics.
An unhealthy combination
The complications resulting from the combination of diabetes and smoking have implications not only for individuals, but also for public health. The National Institutes of Health reports that 1 in 10 dollars spent on health care goes to treating complications due to diabetes. The complications can include heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure and nerve damage.
The study monitored long-term blood sugar levels using the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) blood test. The test is combined with daily blood sugar monitoring to determine the average level of blood sugar in the blood over several weeks. An elevated result from the HbA1c test shows that there is a problem controlling blood sugar and a risk of developing complications.
While previous studies have shown that smoking increases the likelihood that complications will develop for diabetics, it has not been clear what component of cigarettes was elevating risks. Liu and colleagues suspected that nicotine may be the problem and systematically checked the effects of nicotine on HbA1c levels.
Nicotine is the culprit
Liu reported that nicotine was capable of elevating HbA1c levels by as much as 34%. The researchers encouraged doctors to talk with diabetic patients who are smoking and help them develop a plan to stop using tobacco.
Liu also explained that while products such as nicotine patches, electronic cigarettes and other tools designed to help smokers quit may continue to elevate HbA1c levels, the use of such products is generally over a short period of time. Liu said that the benefits of quitting long-term far outweigh the danger of using a patch or electronic cigarette for a short period of time.
Diabetics who are interested in quitting smoking should consult their doctor about the appropriate plan to help them succeed in lowering their risk of complications related to diabetes and smoking.