Could smoking lead to this blood disorder?

Are you a smoker? This habit may increase your risk for anaemia.
Are you a smoker? This habit may increase your risk for anaemia.

Whether you are a smoker or not, you probably know that smoking can increase your risk for many serious medical problems. This includes anaemia.

If you are prone to iron-deficiency anaemia and you're a smoker too, you need to pay attention.

When you smoke, many harmful chemicals enter your lungs, which are then absorbed and spread to the rest of your body through your bloodstream. This has various effects on your health.

Studies have shown that the decrease in haemoglobin levels in a smoker’s blood is compensated for by higher red blood cell production. This is called polycythaemia. But this is not always enough to lower the risk of anaemia, as there are other factors that can cause a greater risk:

1. Smoking interferes with vitamin C levels

Smoking decreases the level of vitamin C in your body, which is crucial for functional iron absorption. When you want to increase the amount of dietary iron you consume, it’s important to include foods rich in vitamin C.

2. Smoking affects your menstrual cycle

There is a definite link between heavy periods and your risk of anaemia. When you smoke, it interferes with your fertility and menstrual cycles, which can lead to excessive bleeding and thus increase your chance of iron-deficiency anaemia.

3. Smoking affects your immune system

When you smoke, your body responds by making too many white blood cells (a sign of infection). This places your body under constant stress. Tar and other chemicals also make your immune system weaker, causing you to be more susceptible to a blood disease called autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, which is characterised by the malfunction of the immune system. When this happens, your body starts to destroy the normal red blood cells by mistake, which causes anaemia.

4. Smoking affects your nutrition

As smoking supresses a healthy appetite and affects the way you taste your food, you may not eat a healthy, balanced diet, which could lead to iron deficiency and subsequent anaemia. Iron is a crucial component of haemoglobin and so, if the body’s stores have been depleted, haemoglobin cannot be manufactured at the rate required by the body.

5. Smoking during pregnancy can affect folic acid

Smoking while you are pregnant may not only affect the unborn foetus, but you will also experience lower levels of folic acid. Folic acid is an important nutrient to keep the body functioning normally, and a lack thereof can also cause anaemia. Besides smoking during pregnancy, when you expose young children from 0-35 months to second-hand smoke, their risks of anaemia are also higher. 

What to do:

If you are already prone to anaemia, it's advisable to quit smoking. Health24 has the following tips:

  • Pick a steady date for quitting and stick to it.
  • Don't be hesitant to try nicotine replacement therapy, as research has shown that those who paired quitting with this method had greater success than those who didn't.
  • Establish what triggers you to smoke (stress, social events, alcohol) and try to avoid those triggers for the first couple of weeks.
  • Follow a healthy, balanced diet to help replenish your immune system and regulate your iron levels. 
  • Exercise. Not only is this something you can do to divert your attention from cravings, but it is also important for the production of red blood cells. 

Image credit: iStock 

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