Whether it’s cigarette, pipe or cigar smoke, there is no doubt this habit negatively affects your overall well-being. Blood cholesterol is no exception. Smoking has a negative effect on HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as triglycerides.
Smoking and LDL Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can cause a buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. This buildup limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood through the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes and other major health complications.
Studies have shown2 that nicotine from smoking damages your blood vessels. This allows more bad cholesterol to build up in the linings of the arteries. Smokers tend to have much higher levels of LDL than non-smokers.
Smoking and HDL Cholesterol
HDL carries LDL cholesterol from other parts of your body to your liver, where it is removed from the body. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol you have in your blood, the lower your risk of developing heart disease.
Inhaling smoke (either firsthand or secondhand), lowers your HDL levels. Studies have shown HDL to be lower in smokers than in non-smokers3 . Having low good cholesterol levels can lead to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and heart disease.
Smoking and Triglycerides
Smoking not only affects HDL and LDL, but it also raises triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. High levels can result in damage to your liver or pancreas. It may also lead to blockages that contribute to heart attack or stroke.
A study of 492 men and women with high cholesterol showed that smoking had an adverse effect on cholesterol and triglyceride levels regardless of sex and age4.
To return to healthier cholesterol levels, it’s important to stop smoking and/or limit your exposure to secondhand smoke. According to Reuters Health, quitting smoking has many health benefits, including improving your cholesterol.
Quitting smoking can be difficult, but talk to your doctor about it. He or she can help you find a smoking cessation program that’s right for you.
2Ramsdale, D.R.& Bened D. Smoking & coronary artery disease assessed by routine coronary arteriography. Brit. Med. J. 1985: 290; 197-200
3Bain, C. & Jesse M.J.. Cigarette consumption and deaths from coronary artery disease. Lancet, 1978:1:1087-8
4Schuitemaker GE, Dinant GJ, Van der pol GA, Van wersch JW. Relationship between smoking habits and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, and triglycerides in a hypercholesterolemic adult cohort, in relation to gender and age. Clin Exp Med. 2002;2(2):83-8.