Autoimmune Disease e Cigarettes And Smoking

Matt Wallace
Jan. 25, 2017
by Matt Wallace


The history of smoking tells us a story. A story that we should learn from. Unfortunately, in many ways, we seem to be repeating a disastrous cycle. The unbearable struggle of autoimmune disease, addictions and smoking has not been documented or studied by any major institution. It is time to bring awareness to the forgotten millions worldwide who have been forgotten. Their daily struggle for sanity, to simply feel comfortable, should not be ignored any longer.

Evidence of the fact that smoking kills began accumulating all through the 1930’s, 40s’ and 50s. Much of this evidence was swept under the rug or simply discounted. In 1957 Surgeon General Leroy Burney declared that the official position of the US Health Service was that there was a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. However, this declaration was vague and often called into question. Public pressure for answers mounted.

It was the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on Smoking and Health that proved to be the definitive moment when Americans finally confronted the evidence that smoking is a killer. Since the Surgeon General’s report in 1964 exposed the years long cover up of the true harms of smoking, we have become aware of the fact that smoking is the number one cause of premature death in the United States.

Prior to the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on Smoking and Health only 44% of Americans believed that smoking causes cancer. A few years after the report in 1968 when another poll was conducted, 78% of Americans believed that smoking causes cancer. Ultimately the sad fact of the matter is that it took us more than a generation to even understand the real dangers of tobacco and smoking.

Smoking And Health Since 1964

Since the Surgeon General’s report in 1964, we have seen endless studies about the hazards and damage of smoking across the spectrum of human health. Smoking affects literally every aspect of human health. We study this fact intensely. We are always learning more. As an example, it was only a few years ago that the prevailing theory was burning tobacco unleashes and vicious cocktail of toxins within the 4,000 chemicals emitted. Then recently that number was revised to 5,000 chemicals. Now scientists have detected 7,000 chemicals released by burning chemically treated tobacco.

The chemicals added to tobacco are not one iota shy of frightening. There are insecticides, accelerants to make the tobacco burn faster and a chemical like ammonia which accelerates nicotine absorption to the brain enhancing and strengthening addiction. Smoking is a health menace. This is well documented and we learn more and more horrors of smoking every day.

More recently, social scientists have sought to find the triggers for anyone to start smoking. We know the dangers yet millions of Americans still start smoking. Studies have shown that smoking is often generational with many smokers coming from families where parents or siblings were smokers. Smoking among peer groups is also a factor. Of course there is more to it than that. For many, smoking is what has been labeled a “crutch”. Something to assist in dealing with stress. Often this is thought a weakness but there is nothing more human than turning to a so called crutch to help manage day to day stresses we all experience.

Smoking As A “Crutch”

The idea of using a destructive habit as a crutch to manage stress is a theory that we have all heard. First, in our culture, having a need for a crutch is considered a weakness. People that struggle with dangerous or seemingly reckless habits are often labeled weak. The need for a “crutch” a sign of frailty and failure. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Basically, I’m for anything that gets you through the night – be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels.” – Frank Sinatra

If you are human, there are times that you use a crutch. Psychologist Jeremy Sherman wrote about the myths of crutches in ‘Psychology Today’. Crutches can take many forms and they are not a sign of weakness. Turning to an outlet to manage stress is not only normal but necessary. For some, running is a crutch. When jogging an endorphin release can produce positive effects on mental health. Eating is a crutch, Shopping, gambling, walking and the list goes on. For some sharing troubles with others who understand and have the same experiences is the crutch that enables us to more forward. To get us through the night.

We essentially then look at some crutches as being positive and some being negative. Often the more startling the stress the strongest more immediate acting crutch becomes the most appealing. Perhaps drugs or alcohol, perhaps smoking. It would be wonderful to say if only those people had taken up jogging or sought support, then they would not have moved into destructive habits for relief. Wonderful idea but what if there is no one who understands? And what if you can’t walk or jog? What is all you know is every waking moment as a painful struggle? What if you had autoimmune disease?


Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune disease is when the immune system becomes overactive and begins to attack healthy tissues. An unknown trigger causes the production of antibodies that instead of fighting infections begin attacking healthy tissues. Unknown trigger is key because we do not really understand what causes this to happen. We do know that there seems to be regional correlations of certain autoimmune conditions. For example, instances of MS, multiple sclerosis, are higher in Canada. Is in environmental? Is it diet? It is probably a number of these factors and more. We are still learning.

There are no known cures for autoimmune disease. Symptoms are typically chronic and often severe. Young and old are affected. A diagnosis of autoimmune disease is life changing. In an instant, careers are ended. Active lifestyles become sedentary lifestyles. A joy for life becomes depression.

Instances of autoimmune disease are increasing. In fact, autoimmune diseases are drastically on the rise and the CDC has no explanation why. Autoimmune disease takes many forms. Multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes mellitus, Meniere’s disease etc. None of the body’s systems are safe from the ravages of autoimmune disease. Let’s consider an example.


Meniere’s Disease

Meniere’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the inner ear, balance, and hearing. It can change inner ear fluid levels by causing swelling in the canals that regulate inner ear fluid. While that may not sound that bad, you have to consider that these fluid levels are like the gyro system on an aircraft. Much like the gyro system on an aircraft which tells the plane the position and direction of the aircraft, the fluid levels are interpreted by your brain to determine your body position and motion. Determining what is real and what is not becomes an obstacle.

Every movement you make from simple to complex is measured and interpreted by the fluids in your inner ear. If that system fails, your brain has difficulty interpreting your position or direction. You may not be able to maintain simple balance and vertigo, a sensation of spinning, is a very common Meniere’s disease symptom. Doing laundry is a challenge. Writing a check is a challenge. The simple act of getting up to go to the kitchen for a glass of water becomes a serious challenge.

Even when symptoms subside it is a struggle for sanity because you know it is a matter of time until the hellscape returns without notice. This applies to all autoimmune diseases. MS, Lupus, chronic pain, arthritis in all its forms as well as Meniere’s. Lyme disease patients experience some of the same traits.

Hearing is impacted as well. Tinnitus and inner ear pressure change how you hear the world around you. Unexplained noises, distorted sounds that cause discomfort and the list goes on. It drives many to total dysfunction. Eye movement changes and other body system problems also occur.

Between 50,000 and 100,000 people are diagnosed with Meniere’s disease/disorderevery year. Symptoms come without warning and with varying frequency. In some cases, episodes are constant and unrelenting. Walking becomes a monumental challenge. Like other autoimmune patients, susceptibility to depression is a result. Depression leads to higher smoking rates. Smoking exacerbates symptoms. A vicious cycle unfolds.

Help For Meniere’s Patients

Earlier when we discussed the variety of crutches that people rely on to cope with stress you can now understand why Meniere’s patients have very few options available. Jogging is not an option when the world is spinning around you. Accessing endorphins through any physical exercise is unlikely available. During the height of Meneire’s symptoms, there is little that one can do but seek a dark room, lie down and try to keep still counting the nanoseconds hoping the worst passes quickly.

One of the supports or “crutches” that many find solace in is the shared experience with an understanding, supportive person that can relate to the experience. This is especially difficult for a Meniere’s patient to find. The disease can be so vicious and so unlike any other that it is not understood by most mental health professionals.

Dr. Mary Alm explains that Meniere’s patients commonly experience anxiety and depression. The unique symptoms cause a long list of impairments beyond dizziness and tinnitus. Retrieving words from memory, understanding what you are hearing make conversation and comprehension often impossible. Finding a mental health professional that can understand this is not easy. Having someone else understand what you are experiencing is often impossible. Finding supportive outlets and coping mechanisms are far more challenging for Meniere’s patients.

Dr. Alm recommends trying to find a psychologists or mental health professional who is familiar with Meniere’s. That adds an additional challenge. Autoimmune diseases like MS or diabetes are more generally understood and Meniere’s patients are especially vulnerable to not being able to find helpful resources.

These factors leave most Meniere’s patients on their own to try and find coping mechanisms. All too often, that coping mechanism is smoking.


Autoimmune Disease And Smoking

The National Institutes of Health has published several studies showing links between  autoimmune disease and smoking. Toxic cigarette smoke does have an effect of the immune system and may be one of the triggers of autoimmune disease. This includes Meniere’s, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, MS and others.

If you look at the relationship between autoimmune disease and smoking, research has also shown that smoking exacerbates disease pathology. For example a massive study of MS patients showed that smoking can make symptoms worse. Cigarettes make autoimmune disease worse. We are entering the realm of a vicious cycle. A cycle of autoimmune disease, depression and smoking leading to worse symptoms, more depression and a stronger smoking addiction.

What we see happen is that autoimmune patients desperate to cope turn to smoking. In turn, patients believe that smoking actually relieves symptoms.

Mayo Clinic Study Shows Patients Believe That Smoking Helps Them Cope

The Mayo Clinic found that smokers with fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disease, experienced more pain and dysfunction that patients that were non-smokers. This is not an unexpected finding as there are a number of studies that have indicated that smoking indeed can make autoimmune disease worse and progress faster.

What the Mayo Clinic sought was to study why there were such high smoking rates among their fibromyalgia patients. In a 2015 Mayo Clinic study they discovered an answer.

While we can surmise that fibromyalgia patients, like other autoimmune patients, may be more susceptible to depression and smoking the Mayo Clinic study established another reason why autoimmune patients smoke. The reason is the perception that smoking brings symptom relief.

In fact, 69% of the patients who participated in the study reported that they used smoking to cope with the pain. The majority of patients did not actually experience a change in their disease but they did report that anxiety and irritability were reduced by smoking. That is a powerful perception that leads to connecting relief to smoking. As a result, we know that autoimmune patients who smoke perceive and believe that they are finding relief with smoking. Smoking is used to cope with anxiety and depression.


Depression And Smoking

While the CDC does not keep data on smoking rates for autoimmune patients, they do track the smoking rates of those suffering from depression. The CDC tracked this smoking data for 5 years in order to deliver a clear picture of the relationship between depression and smoking. The statistics are frankly shocking.

While it would stand to reason that depression would make an individual more susceptible to becoming a smoker, the distinction in the actual data is jarring. People with depression are more than twice as likely to be smokers. It gets worse.

The CDC found that the more severe the depression the higher the rate of smoking. In fact, almost half of all adults over 40 with severe depression are smokers. In that category we find that the smoking rate is about three times the national average. The more severe the depression the morle likely it is that the patient is a smoker.

The CDC also found that with more severe depression the number of cigarettes smoked increased. Essentially, the more severe the depression, the more intense the smoking habit becomes. Finally, the CDC also found that depression is an additional boundary to quitting smoking. Patients with depression have a much more difficult time quitting.

Depression And Autoimmune Disease

So far we have established that autoimmune disease can be a debilitating condition that limits access to coping mechanisms for patients. We have established that humans all seek coping mechanisms or a “crutch” to manage stress. We know that smoking is a coping mechanism that autoimmune patients are drawn to because they feel it helps them cope with pain and manage stress, anxiety and depression.

Dr. Alm asserted that Meniere’s patients are more likely to experience depression but can we actually draw a direct, proven line from autoimmune disease to depression? The answer is yes we can.

The Harvard Medical School Harvard Health Publications has published work showing us the direct connection from autoimmune to depression. The study showed that autoimmune disease increases the risk of depression by 45%. So you are much, much more likely to develop depression following an autoimmune diagnosis.

We can now clearly see and establish a vicious cycle of autoimmune disease and smoking.

Cycle Of Smoking Autoimmune Disease Addiction And Smoking

  1. We know that smoking may be connected to triggering autoimmune disease.
  2. Published Harvard University studies have linked autoimmune disease to higher incidents of depression.
  3. Public knowledge from CDC data shows that people with depression are twice to three times as likely to be smokers, to smoke more frequently than typical smokers and have more difficulty quitting.
  4. We can conclude that autoimmune patients are more likely to be smokers than the general public.
  5. It is known from the Mayo Clinic study that people with autoimmune disease believe that smoking relieves and helps them cope with symptoms.
  6. We know that many of the “crutches” or coping mechanisms that are recommended by health professionals are not readily available to autoimmune patients.
  7. Smoking can make the symptoms and progression of autoimmune disease worse.
  8. Autoimmune patients face barriers to quitting far more severe than a typical smoker.

What we can gather from this cycle is that autoimmune patients are more likely to experience depression and smoke. We can infer that smoking will make their disease worse. We know that it is more difficult for someone with depression to quit or even moderate smoking. Finally we can also infer that because autoimmune patients actually believe that smoking is a positive coping tool that quitting becomes even more difficult as compared to someone experiencing only depression.

The end result is an entrenched smoking habit that is beyond the assistance of the usual smoking cessation methods. Many autoimmune patients have turned to vaping. Mig Vapor is a Florida based e-cigarette and vape juice company that recognizes the specific trials and tribulations of autoimmune patients who are also trying to manage smoking. Mig Vapor offers discounts for autoimmune patients seeking another option tobacco product option.


Autoimmune Disease And e Cigarettes

While there are concerns from parents about teens turning to e cigarettes and vaping, the question must be asked if vaping may be a solution for the deeply entrenched smoking habits of autoimmune patients. These patients face much more difficult obstacles and frightening failure rates when it comes to trying to quit smoking.

In all, the level of research regarding the specific barriers to quitting and higher smoking rates of autoimmune patients is something that we need to start paying attention to. With autoimmune disease on a rapid incline, the time to seek answers is now. Are e-cigarettes helping autoimmune patients cope with their condition emotionally with less physical harm than other than self-medicating with smoking, alcoholism or prescription drug abuse?

For much of the twentieth century, we turned a blind eye to the dangers of smoking. Because we did not confront the realities of tobacco harm when we should have, we have to ask how many millions of people were needlessly lost because of inaction? With autoimmune becoming epidemic and the dangers of smoking known and understood better than ever, we must act now and prevent disaster.

Could Vaping Help Autoimmune Patients?

Science and public health officials must act now and investigate the use of e cigarettes as a potential alternative to the variety of chemical coping mechanisms currently being used by autoimmune patients worldwide. It is not enough simply to say that autoimmune patients should quit. The barriers to quitting are far greater than those faced by the general public. Autoimmune patients need alternatives to using tobacco,cigarettes, alcohol and narcotics to simply find comfort in their everyday existence. Considering the fact that all of the chemicals listed above aggravate autoimmune symptoms it is imperative that studies be done to investigate the use of e cigarettes to reduce both risk and harm to these especially vulnerable people.





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