It wasn't that long ago that otherwise healthy people — including tiny ballet dancers — would smoke because it was believed that cigarettes could help them stay slim. However, a new study suggests that not only is that belief not true, but secondhand smoke is also detrimental to the metabolisms of the people around them.
"For people who are in a home with a smoker, particularly children, the increased risk of cardiovascular or metabolic problems is massive," says Benjamin Bikman, professor of physiology and developmental biology at Brigham Young University. Bikman is the author of the BYU study published in American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism. This is a serious problem considering that 20 percent of children live in a household with a smoker. Since childhood obesity is such an issue in our country, taking this into consideration seems like a vital next step for the health of our children.
It was already known that smokers had a propensity to become insulin-resistant. The researchers wanted to find out why that was, so they exposed mice to secondhand smoke, and watched at the cellular level what happened. They discovered that the smoke triggered a lipid called ceramide to alter mitochondria in the cells. This disruption then inhibited the normal ability of cells to respond to insulin. This is what leads to insulin issues and weight gain.
When the researchers gave a drug to the smoke-exposed mice that blocked the ceramide from altering the mitochondria, this effect was no longer seen. However, if the mice were on a high sugar diet, even the drug was unable to stop the mice from gaining weight.
Researchers are now looking at the possibility of developing a drug for humans who are exposed to secondhand smoke to stop the damaging effects. (Of course, the researchers also pointed out if smokers would quit, these consequences could be avoided.
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