I can't stop smoking. It is Thanksgiving and I will once again have my family on my case for smoking. I know smoking is bad for everything but why is it so bad for people with MS?
You are correct on all fronts; smoking is bad for MS and, like all addictions, it is hard to quit. You’ve asked the most difficult question which is, how is cigarette smoking bad for MS? Although we do not have a full answer to this question, we do have some interesting information:
- Nicotine itself is not the problem. Nicotine may even have beneficial effects on MS, although this is far from being a proven fact. The good news is that it is probably okay to use a nicotine patch or nicotine gum to help you quit smoking, even if you need to use this nicotine substitute for an extended interval
- The harmful substance(s) in cigarettes is found in the cigarette smoke condensate (everything inhaled after combustion). Theories abound as to how the substances in cigarette smoke are potentially harmful in diseases like MS or rheumatoid arthritis, but a recent study using a mouse model of nervous system inflammation suggested that the substance(s) do not necessarily need to be inhaled to be harmful. This study showed that directly infusing the cigarettes smoke condensate into the mouse veins increased the severity of the nervous system inflammation.
The most important thing to remember is that the evidence linking the prevalence and severity of MS to cigarette smoking is overwhelming.
My strong suggestion is to use a nicotine substitute (patch or gum only) for smoking cessation and get involved with the Freedom from Smoking program offered through the American Lung Association. This online resource is readily available to you once you decide it is time to quit.
-Rip Kinkel MD