While smoking is often used as a method to lose weight, new research suggests its effects (or at least those of second hand smoke) can actually cause weight gain. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism examined the connection between secondhand smoke and insulin resistance, following the metabolic progression of lab mice exposed to cigarette smoke. With over 4,000 young adults smoking their first cigarette every day and 1,000 becoming habitual smokers, the results are not surprising considering the country’s current diabetes and obesity rates.
The researchers analyzed the cells in the mice, findings that the smoke had triggered a tiny lipid called ceramide in mitochondria (an organelle in cells that play a vital role in energy), causing a disruption to cell function and inhibiting the cells’ abilities to respond to insulin. Over time, chronic ceramide levels lead to insulin resistance, requiring their bodies to produce more; because the body allocates more energy to fat with higher levels of insulin, weight gain is often the result.
Inhibiting ceramide seemed to reverse the effects of the second hand smoke; however, the mice treated with myriocin (a ceramide blocker) did not gain any weight or experience metabolic problems after exposure to the smoke. When the second hand smoke-exposed mice were put on a high sugar diet, the metabolic disruption caused by the smoke could not be fixed with the ceramide blocker. Ceramide blockers affect a fat molecule found in skin cells on the top epidermal layers, responsible for retaining moisture and the appearance of aging.
“The lungs provide a vast interface with our environment and this research shows that a response to involuntary smoking includes altering systemic sensitivity to insulin. For people who are in a home with a smoker, particularly children, the increased risk of cardiovascular or metabolic problems is massive. The idea that there might be some therapy we could give to innocent bystanders to help protect them from the consequences of being raised in a home with a smoker is quite gratifying,” said Benjamin Bikman, co-author of the study and professor of physiology and developmental biology at Brigham Young University (BYU).
Bikman and his team are currently developing a ceramide inhibitor that is safe for human consumption, a challenge considering that to work with sugar, it would have to avoid irritating the skin too much as that sugar leads to a disruption of hormone and skin bacteria levels, adding to the dermal effects of less ceramide.
A pill for second hand smoke
In the U.S., a case of diabetes is diagnosed every 30 seconds, affecting over 371 million people each year. When taken into consideration with the fact that everyone in the country is exposed at least once every day to second hand cigarette smoke (with 20 percent of young children living with someone who smokes), the two epidemics have the potential to feed off of each other. Someone who is around second hand smoke could develop diabetes, unknowingly using smoking as a means of weight loss; unbeknownst to them, they could be exacerbating their diabetes as well as their smoking habit.
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