We know that multiple sclerosis (MS) is associated with both genetic and environmental factors that influence disease susceptibility. While we can’t change our genes, we can and must consider the effects of outside and controllable influences such as smoking habits.
The study, “Exposure to passive smoking during adolescence is associated with an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis,” was recently published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal – and clearly the publication’s title spells out even more negative implications of smoking. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1352458520912500?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed&)
While there are other environmental or non-genetic factors that contribute to disease initiations, smoking cigarettes in particular has been shown to increase MS risk. And as this study found, exposure to passive or secondhand smoke has also been linked to a higher risk of developing MS, though most research has focused on exposure during adulthood. Regardless it’s to your and your children’s benefit if you do smoke to quit right now.
Smokers are also at a higher risk of developing certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Graves’ disease and Crohn’s disease that quite likely develop due to a host of immunosuppressive effects:
1. Different components of cigarette smoke may cause either immunosuppression (e.g. nicotine) or immuno-stimulation (e.g., tobacco glycoprotein). Immune dysfunction occurs with innate immune cells, such as neutrophils, macrophages/ monocytes, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells.
2. Nicotine has been shown to increase microvascular blood flow on the brain (animal models), which could increase the permeability of the blood-brain-barrier and subsequently allow toxins to cross this protective field.
3. Components of cigarette smoke may have direct, toxic effects on the central nervous system; for example, cyanide in cigarettes has long been known to cause demyelination in the central nervous system of laboratory animals that were administered comparatively large or even lower doses, especially when these are repeated.
4. Smoking might also increase the risk of MS by increasing the frequency and persistence of respiratory infections. Mechanisms from the PANS and PANDAS literature tell us that recurrent infections of any sort can have detrimental effects on the brain.
5. Smoking also decreased the diversity of the intestinal microbiome, which may explain the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases that affect the digestive system as well.
Of course we’re all aware of the risks…but if you need another reason not to smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke, here you go! And don’t hesitate to talk to us or your primary care physician for resources and available tools for quitting.
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology