In this article:
- What is Hashimoto's disease?
- Toxins and autoimmune disease
- Why are cigarettes harmful?
- Does smoking cigarettes increase your risk for Hashimoto's?
- Smoking cessation
Cigarette smoking correlates with numerous chronic health conditions. From heart disease and osteoporosis to lung cancer and stroke, cigarette smoking exacerbates or increases your risk for nearly every health condition. But what about autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto's thyroiditis? Ahead, an in-depth look at what the research shows between cigarette smoking and Hashimoto's risk.
What is Hashimoto's disease?
Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disorder that involves chronic inflammation of the thyroid. This autoimmune condition is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Hashimoto's tends to run in families and most often occurs in middle-aged women. However, anyone can develop Hashimoto's at any age, including children.
Hashimoto's is often a silent disease for many years. Thyroid inflammation goes undetected, and there are rarely any symptoms that suggest an inflammatory process is at work. With time and factors that worsen inflammation, Hashimoto's can impair thyroid hormone production in the gland, resulting in a decline in thyroid function. When the thyroid cannot produce enough thyroid hormone to support the body's metabolic needs, you can develop hypothyroidism.
Toxins and autoimmune disease
Evidence suggests that both genetic and environmental factors can cause autoimmune diseases. However, there is still much speculation regarding how much your genes versus environmental toxins affect the presence of autoimmunity.
We know that frequent exposure to environmental toxins can cause chronic inflammation. Furthermore, some environmental agents directly interfere with the thyroid gland by interrupting the following processes:
- Thyroid hormone synthesis
- Thyroid hormone metabolism and excretion
- The action of thyroid hormones
Toxins can also disrupt other processes related to optimal thyroid functioning, such as influencing TSH secretion from the pituitary and interrupting iodine uptake from your diet.
Why are cigarettes harmful?
Cigarette smoking is a type of environmental toxin that can cause serious health consequences. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 5 deaths is due to tobacco-related diseases. People who smoke regularly have a life expectancy of ten years less than nonsmokers.
Cigarettes contain toxic substances that are damaging to your tissues.
- Carbon monoxide is in cigarettes. It replaces oxygen in your blood, causing your organs not to receive sufficient amounts of oxygen. With low oxygen (called hypoxemia), your tissues cannot function well.
- Cigarettes may also contain tar. This sticky substance attaches to the alveoli in the lungs, making it difficult for oxygen to pass from the lungs to your blood.
- Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes that makes people hunger for more.
Along with affecting your heart, vessels, brain, lungs, GI system, skin, reproductive function, and bones, smoking also harms your immune system. Some studies suggest that smoking reduces your immune function, which causes chronic inflammation.
Does smoking cigarettes increase your risk for Hashimoto's?
The jury is still out on what role cigarette smoking plays in Hashimoto's. Indeed, there are still many questions about the role environmental toxins play in developing Hashimoto's compared to genetic factors.
One smaller study found that smoking cessation or continuation did not significantly impact when patients began to experience Hashimoto's symptoms before age 39. However, there was an interesting correlation found in patients who quit smoking later in life: the results suggested that stopping smoking later in life triggered Hashimoto's symptoms. Whether smoking cessation, age, or other factors like hormones (especially in menopausal women) is the primary trigger for Hashimoto's symptoms is yet to be studied.
An older study found that people who smoked seemed to be less likely to develop TPO antibodies, present in Hashimoto's thyroiditis. However, cigarette smoking may stimulate Graves' disease, an autoimmune condition resulting in hyperthyroidism. Despite this study's results, we know that cigarette smoking is not a solution to preventing Hashimoto's, as smoking causes chronic inflammation and may also promulgate autoimmune disease.
It is imperative to stop smoking today to ward off chronic smoking-related health conditions. Smoking can damage all of your tissues, including your thyroid gland. Smoking cessation is not easy. However, with the right action plan, you can stop. Here are some tips on how to quit smoking.
Talk to your doctor
Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you curb cravings and also align you with other resources.
Develop a Quit Plan
Your Quit Plan is a guide created by you where you plan out your quitting strategy. It is helpful to include:
- What day you will quit
- When you will tell loved ones that you are quitting
- A list of the triggers that you will need to remove to stop reminding yourself of smoking
- Your reasons for quitting (it helps to put this somewhere that you will see every day)
- Thinking ahead about coping strategies
- Set rewards for when you reach significant milestones
- List resources where you can get help right away if you are struggling with temptation (several helplines are available)
Find a support group
If you have a friend or relative who is planning to quit smoking, try to do it together. Also, there are plenty of social support groups in person and online.
Use supporting technology
There are many apps, free text messages, and phone services to help you meet your goals.