Smoking Causes Permanent Genetic Changes
> 8/31/2007 11:00:44 AM

It is now undisputed that chronic smoking increases the risk of a variety of health problems. There has been some disagreement, however, about why ex-smokers still face elevated risks of cancer even decades after they ceased poisoning their lungs. Recent research published in BMC Genomics supports the troubling theory that permanent genetic alterations linger after someone quits smoking.

The genetic code is carefully guarded by our bodies. It is incredibly difficult for any additions or subtractions to be made. However, scientists have come to realize that the pattern of activation of existing genes can radically change an organism. In 2005, Dr. Prescott Woodruff uncovered a distinctive activation pattern among smokers. His study, though well executed, did not include ex-smokers or a follow-up to determine whether genes stay activated in the long-term.

Dr. Raj Chari from the British Columbia Cancer Agency studied gene activation in 24 subjects, divided up into groups of current smokers, past smokers, and non-smokers. Using an analysis technique named SAGE, he was able to find an assortment of reversible and irreversible activations. While TFF3, which regulates mucus, eventually returned to normal, GSK3B, which regulates the enzyme COX2, was irreversibly activated. COX2, unlike COX1, is not normally present in cells and is only supposed to be released when the body faces a problem such as inflammation.

Permanent activations of genes for inducible enzymes—those meant to be produced only when necessary—like COX2 are likely to cause health problems. While smokers who quit will still carry some risk for the rest of their lives, that is not a good excuse to continue the destructive habit. It IS a good reason to never try smoking to begin with. We previously reported that addiction can begin with the first cigarette, and it now seems that even if you win the addiction gamble, the genetic game is rigged from the beginning.

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