Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for reference purposes only and does not constitute a replacement for advice from a medical professional.
It’s no secret that cigarette smoking is bad for your health.
Despite the obvious risks of lung and heart disease as a result of smoking, did you know it can also cause type 2 diabetes?
If you already have diabetes, cigarette smoking can make the disease worse, making it harder to control blood sugar levels.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at how smoking and diabetes are connected, and focus on the safety of nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine patches if you are a diabetic.
How Can Smoking Lead To Type 2 Diabetes?
As mentioned above, smoking can cause individuals to develop type 2 diabetes.
As with all health conditions, genetic factors play a role in someone’s chances of developing certain illnesses.
If your parents or grandparents have/had diabetes, the chances of you developing it increase. But how does smoking lead to type 2 diabetes?
In basic terms, insulin is responsible for modulating sugar levels in your blood, as it helps sugar enter blood cells.
Nicotine interrupts this process because it has the effect of changing cells so that they stop responding to insulin.
This results in increases in blood sugar levels.
There are also hundreds of harmful chemical compounds found in cigarette smoke.
The majority of these chemicals harm cells in your body which triggers a natural inflammatory response.
This inflammatory response also inhibits cells from interacting with insulin in the blood.
Another risk factor associated with smoking is the tendency to develop belly fat.
This increased amount of belly fat increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even if you’re not medically classed as overweight.
If You’re A Smoker And Have Diabetes
Being able to manage diabetes is a challenge in itself, smoking can make this task even harder.
As we’ve discussed, nicotine increases blood sugar levels which in turn makes bringing them down safely more difficult.
It’s not uncommon for diabetic smokers to require higher doses of insulin to help bring their blood sugar levels within normal range.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the risks associated with being a smoker and diabetic.
Diabetics are at risk of developing serious health issues like kidney failure, heart disease, blindness (glaucoma), and nerve damage which can result in amputation of appendages like toes, feet, and legs.
This risk is increased if they are struggling to manage their blood sugar levels consistently.
The risk of any or all of these health issues increases again if you smoke.
You are, on average, more likely to develop complications, and serious complications, being a diabetic smoker than a diabetic alone.
It’s worth paying particular attention to heart disease, as this is the leading cause of death in the US.
Both smoking and diabetes lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease.
High blood sugar caused by diabetes damages blood vessels along with the nerves in and around the heart,
It’s well documented that smoking also damages blood vessels because it increases the amount of plaque (a waxy, fatty substance that accumulates on the artery walls).
Quitting For Good
Even if you smoked for a long time quitting will help improve your health.
The physical benefits of quitting smoking happen almost as soon as you stop:
- After 20 minutes of abstinence, heart rate and blood pressure return to normal
- After 12 hours of abstinence, carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal
- Between 2 weeks and 3 months of abstinence, lung function and circulation improve
- After a year of abstinence, the risk of developing heart disease is roughly half compared to someone who still smokes.
Without stating the obvious too much, quitting smoking also helps your body make better use of insulin.
Abstinence from smoking prevents the cigarette smoke and nicotine from interfering with your cell’s ability to interact with insulin.
This translates to blood sugar levels being easier to manage.
Changes In Blood Sugar
Doing regular checks of your blood sugar and injecting insulin accordingly is essential in the management of type 2 diabetes.
The frequency of these checks will change as soon as you start living a smoke-free life.
You should notice that you do not need to check as often, and the readings will be more stable, when you quit smoking.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy: Nicotine Patches
Nicotine Replacement Therapies (often referred to as NRT’s) are a great way to increase your chances of successfully quitting smoking.
There are a number of effective NRT’s available, including lozenges, gum, and nicotine patches.
It’s often debated whether diabetics can make use of NRT’s, particularly patches, when starting their smoke-free journey.
As we’ve discussed in this article, nicotine disrupts a cell’s ability to interact with insulin and absorb sugar in the blood.
The issue is does this change in the delivery of nicotine to the blood (from cigarettes to NRT treatments) have the same effect on cells?
Whilst your body won’t be getting doses of harmful chemicals and gases from cigarettes, which is obviously a benefit, swapping to nicotine patches might still increase blood sugar levels.
This is due to the nature of the relationship between nicotine and the cells in our body.
If you’re diabetic and looking to quit smoking, you should consult your doctor before using nicotine patches.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Quitting Smoking Lower Blood Sugar?
The short answer is, yes, quitting smoking has a positive effect on blood sugar levels in the sense that they are reduced.
The long term effects of being smoke-free on blood sugar levels are they become more stable and easier to manage.
Are There Any Side Effects Of Nicotine Patches?
The simple answer is yes, as will all medications, there are side effects of nicotine patches.
Possible side effects of using nicotine patches include soreness around the area of application, itching, skin irritation/redness, headaches, and sleep disturbances.
Despite there being some conflicting opinions around the topic of using nicotine patches if you are a diabetic, one thing is very clear: quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health.
It’s vital to understand that quitting smoking is no small task, especially if you’ve been smoking for a long time/are a heavy smoker.
Don’t lose hope of being smoke-free if you are unable to quit on your first try.
The truth is that it can take people several attempts to quit before they are able to break their dependence on and relationship with cigarettes.
You also do not need to do it alone. Ask friends and family for their support.
There are also many smoking cessation helplines which can offer support.