For some smokers, it feels satisfying to light up a stick right after you’ve eaten lunch or dinner. The fullness feels much more ‘complete’ after you take that first hit and exhale.
While you’re enjoying the sensations, your body isn’t agreeable with the smoke you’ve just inhaled. We’ve seen how smoking can harm your stomach.
For some people, in fact, it can cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) due to nicotine in the short term – meaning right after you’ve eaten.
One other thing that the spotlight doesn’t always hit is the interaction between smoking and gut health.
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The gut – referring to your entire digestive tract from the stomach to the intestines – plays a crucial role in breaking down food and absorbing the nutrients passed by the blood to your entire body.
Cigarette smoke contains about 7,000 chemicals and 69 known carcinogens that disrupt the delicate balance of chemicals and microbiomes in the gut – the ones that aid in digesting food and transferring nutrients in the intestines.
In this post, we’ll take a look at how smoking affects your gut health and how well you recover after quitting.
How Cigarette Smoke Transforms Your Gut Bacteria
The gut isn’t just the belly sticking out the midriff. It’s the entire large and small intestine section connected to the stomach responsible for breaking down food and absorbing its nutrients.
The intestines may do all the heavy lifting, but the gut microbiomes – a friendly assortment of microorganisms living in the stomach – are the ones that make sure all the vitamins, minerals, and other helpful elements your body needs get absorbed more easily.
Think of them as the sorters and packers in a warehouse. Sure, machines can do the work, but with these guys, the job’s done a lot better and faster.
Unfortunately, each time you take a hit, you’re poisoning these diligent sorters and packers, reducing their population and how effectively you can digest.
Here’s what happens to the gut when a smoker hasn’t quit yet.
Good Bacteria Imbalance
One other interesting fact about your gut microbiome is it also prevents harmful bacteria from infecting your stomach and intestines. If their population is enough, the friendly microbiomes can reduce the risk of food poisoning, digestive infections, and other problems.
In fact, they go toe-to-toe with dangerous microorganisms by building a ‘wall’ to prevent them from passing through.
However, if your gut microbiome’s population is low because of consistent smoking, you may suffer from dysbiosis, a condition wherein the microbiomes cannot function as a barrier to protect you from danger and help you digest food.
When this happens, you’re much more prone to IBS, metabolic syndromes, and autoimmunity disorders.
If you’d like to have a more satisfying meal that won’t cause you to go to the loo immediately and help your friendly microbiome protect you, stop smoking for good.
As mentioned, dysbiosis can cause lots of things to happen. You’re prone to digestive infection and disorder, and you won’t absorb the full amount of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals from the food you eat.
Without helpers to break down food into simpler forms that the large intestine can easily absorb and digest, your food just passes through without completely nourishing you, bloating and causing discomfort right after a meal, especially if you’ve just had a large one.
Poor digestion due to smoking can also result in constipation and heartburn. So, if you’re already having some digestion problems, maybe it’s time to stop smoking and introduce more fibre and healthier foods in your diet, too.
Lower Nutrient Absorption
Your gut microbiome is a diverse community that’s very fragile and delicate to chemical changes in the digestive tract. Similar to a typical organisation or business, disruption affects productivity.
In this case, cigarette chemicals disrupt gut microbiomes enough to lower nutrient absorption.
Combined with a poor diet, you’ll be lacking in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to keep your skin looking young and ensure your immune system and organs are working properly.
Even if you eat nutrient-rich foods while smoking, you’ll never absorb the nutrients completely, which may explain why you feel weak and fatigued after smoking and during the initial week of quitting smoking for a better gut health.
Frequent Abdominal Pains
IBS is a leading cause of frequent abdominal pain in smokers. Aside from IBS, smoking can also cause gut inflammation without triggering IBS.
The chemicals in cigarette smoke encourage the growth of inflammation-causing bacteria in the stomach and intestines. Combined with the dehydrating effects of smoking, they can proliferate quickly, giving you IBS-like symptoms and a bloated and painful feeling.
If you suspect that you have a digestive or gut infection due to frequent abdominal pains, we recommend you see a doctor for a full evaluation. Moreover, we encourage you to stop smoking immediately to reduce or prevent stomach and gut infections.
Your gut microbiome does a lot for your body, so much that it can also lower cholesterol and plaque in the body – two main contributing factors to high blood pressure and heart diseases.
The friendly bacteria in your gut biome break down the bad cholesterol in your body, so if they’re disrupted from properly doing their job, they cannot help maintain your blood pressure and reduce the plaque buildup in the arteries.
Fortunately, it’s easy to prevent this from happening – once you quit smoking, the gut microbiome will continue its work and restore its population.
Then, it would start helping you break down bad cholesterol once again, a process that’s sped up if you eat right and regularly exercise.
The Effects of Smoking on Your Stomach
Once your gut health is weakened, you’re susceptible to stomach infections and diseases. Here are some of the conditions you are likely to experience if you don’t stop smoking soon.
Heartburn: If you feel a burning sensation in your chest right after smoking, that’s a sign that you’ve got heartburn. Typically, you’d have to eat a whole lot to feel heartburn, unless you have a disrupted gut microbiome.
Peptic Ulcers: The gut microbiome creates a wall of themselves that aid in digestion and in keeping out dangerous bacteria that may arrive with the food you eat. If your microbiome is disrupted or reduced in number, this can expose your stomach lining to chemicals and bacteria that cause open sores or raw areas.
Diarrhoea: Dysbiosis leads to diarrhoea as the stomach and intestines get exposed to diarrhoea-causing bacteria. If the microbiome level remains low, it can lead to Crohn’s Disease in severe cases.
Crohn’s Disease: Without gut microbiomes to help with digestion and to fend off infections, the body goes through persistent diarrhoea, inflammation, and a great deal of discomfort that lead to Crohn’s Disease.
How to Get Started Quitting Today
You can keep your gut health in good shape by ridding yourself of the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke. If you’re ready to get started on your quit journey, you just need to take a few steps towards wellness.
Go Through First-Line Solutions First
Some motivated smokers can handle cold turkey just fine and see success within a few tries, but oftentimes, smokers have strong withdrawals that can draw them back to lighting a stick.
That’s where nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products come in. These are readily available and stocked at your local pharmacy.
NRT products are the most trusted quitting option available for motivated smokers. They might not imitate cigarettes, but they contain a small dose of nicotine that may be enough to alleviate your withdrawals. These come in the form of patches and gums for easy and convenient nicotine delivery.
While NRTs can be effective, they don’t work for everyone. If these haven’t done the trick for you, you may now be eligible for a nicotine prescription to use nicotine vaping products (NVPs).
Chat to a GP
As mentioned, NRT products have worked for many successful ex-smokers. But, you might have ingrained behaviours and triggers that only something that mimics a cigarette can successfully address, such as the hand-to-mouth motion, and needing something to use while having a drink with friends.
That is where NVPs become very handy in helping you fight the urge to consume tobacco.
You need a nicotine prescription before you can purchase NVPs, so you’ll need to consult with a GP to help you on your smoking cessation journey.
And, if your GP deems it necessary, they can write you a nicotine prescription for NVPs.
You can chat to your usual GP about this, or book a bulk-billed phone chat with an authorised prescriber of nicotine.
Visit Your Local Pharmacy
Once you have your nicotine prescription, you can pop down to your local pharmacy. Over 2,200 pharmacies across Australia hold these products in-store, but any pharmacy can order these in for you if they don’t currently stock them.
Both your pharmacist and GP can advise you on how best to use the product, such as the initial setup, and the number of puffs to take when you feel withdrawals.
Your gut health after quitting smoking will quickly improve as your microbiomes restore their population and order in your digestive system. Over time, you’ll feel healthier, reduce bloating and heartburn, and have regular bowel movements.
All you have to do is endure a few weeks of difficult withdrawals and cravings, and you’re off the hook, and we can help you deal with those.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to bulk-billing Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good, including using responsible vaping products where appropriate.
Click here to book your bulk-billed telehealth consultation with an Australian healthcare professional and quit smoking today.