New Delhi, Dec 05
W hen we talk of smoking, the first thoughts that cross our minds regarding its health implications are of oral and lung cancer; thanks to the statutory warning that comes with all tobacco products. However, smoking has negative effects beyond that. Yes, from the well-established effects on respiratory to heart health, smoking takes a toll on mental health as well. An interesting pathway by which smoking impacts mental health is linked to gut health.
hen we talk of smoking, the first thoughts that cross our minds regarding its health implications are of oral and lung cancer; thanks to the statutory warning that comes with all tobacco products. However, smoking has negative effects beyond that. Yes, from the well-established effects on respiratory to heart health, smoking takes a toll on mental health as well. An interesting pathway by which smoking impacts mental health is linked to gut health.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut-brain axis is a two-way communication system between the central nervous system and the gut, involving complex interactions between the gut microbiota, immune system, and the enteric nervous system. The gut microbiota is the group of trillions of microorganisms that reside in our digestive tract and affect our overall health. The gut-brain axis plays a crucial role in regulating mood, cognition, and emotional responses. Remember how balance is regarded as key to success in every sphere of life? This balance holds great relevance in terms of the quality and quantity of the microbes we have in our gut. Disruptions in the delicate balance of the gut can lead to a variety of mental health issues, with smoking being a contributor to this disturbance.
Smoking and Gut Microbiota
Research indicates that smoking can alter the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota. Smoking disrupts this microbial balance, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a decline in beneficial ones. For example, Bifidobacter is a beneficial bacteria that is found in abundance in a healthy gut but its population decreases significantly in smokers. Similarly, Proteobacteria (major group or phylum) consisting of pathogens such as Salmonella, Escherichia, Vibrio etc is increased in smokers as compared to non-smokers. Such imbalances, known as dysbiosis, have been linked to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Smoking is a well-known trigger for inflammation throughout the body, and the gut is no exception. In fact, smoking directly and also by causing dysbiosis in the gut can cause chronic inflammation in the gut. Studies have shown that patients with chronic gut inflammation are prone to depression and anxiety.
The gut microbiota plays an important role in the production and regulation of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are essential for mood and emotional well-being. Smoking-induced changes in the gut microbiota (dysbiosis) can disrupt the balance of these neurotransmitters, contributing to the development of mental health disorders. Serotonin, in particular, is often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, and alterations in its levels have been linked to conditions like depression.
Impact on Stress Response
Smoking not only affects the gut microbiota but also influences the stress response. Chronic exposure to stress can contribute to mental health disorders, and smoking appears to exacerbate this effect. The alterations in the gut microbiota caused by smoking can influence the body's ability to cope with stress, further compromising mental well-being.
While the detrimental effects of smoking on physical health are well-established, the impact on mental health through the intricate connection with gut health is a relatively recent area of exploration. Understanding the link between smoking, gut health, and mental well-being opens up new avenues for intervention and treatment. Smoking cessation not only benefits respiratory and cardiovascular health but also contributes to restoring the delicate balance of the gut-brain axis, promoting a healthier mind and body. As research in this field progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the journey to mental well-being may, in part, start with a smoke-free life.
(Dr. Debojyoti Dhar is the Co-founder and Director of Leucine Rich Bio Pvt. Ltd.)
Guard your gut, protect your mind
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