Gut health — the health of the entire digestive tract from the esophagus to the bowels — is essential for important bodily functions such as digestion, nutrient absorption, and immunity. However, a Frontiers in Public Health study notes that poor gut health and digestive diseases have become increasingly prevalent. With illnesses such as peptic ulcer and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) contributing to death and disability on a global scale, there needs to be greater effort put into improving gut health.
This can start with understanding the risk factors attributed to digestive diseases, one of which is smoking. Here’s a closer look at how smoking can harm your digestive system and what smokers can do to support and restore their gut health.
The link between smoking and gut health
Among the key ways smoking can directly harm your gut health is by disrupting the balance and composition of microorganisms in your stomach and intestines, collectively known as the microbiome. 2022 research published in the journal Biomedicines found that on top of other lifestyle factors like poor diets and stress, smoking can alter the bacterial abundance in the intestinal tract.
Based on the findings, the levels of the bacterial group Prevotella spp. were significantly increased among cigarette smokers compared to non-smokers. Meanwhile, the Proteobacteria Desulfovibrio and Alphaproteobacteria progressively increased according to the number of cigarette packs consumed. This imbalance in microbes may increase the risk of weight gain, high blood sugar, and inflammatory conditions.
When smoking inflames the digestive tract and causes changes in the gut microbiome, the gut barrier becomes too permeable to prevent bacteria, toxins, and undigested food from entering the bloodstream. This results in leaky gut syndrome, a digestive condition with symptoms like bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Lastly, smoking is a significant risk factor for cancer, making smokers vulnerable to many types of cancer involving the gastrointestinal tract and organs.
Effective ways to improve your gut health
Quit smoking using oral NRTs
With the digestive damage caused by smoking, the best way to improve your gut health is to quit the habit. Instead of dealing with cravings and withdrawal symptoms, smokers can look into oral nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products such as pouches, gums, lozenges, and mouth sprays, which can all be bought without a prescription online and offline. To illustrate how these can also help the microbiome, the popular ZYN spearmint nicotine pouches, available on Prilla, are tobacco-free, meaning you can supply nicotine directly to your body without harming your gut. The refreshing mint flavor also makes for a subtle and satisfying nicotine experience when you discreetly place the pouch between your upper lip and gum. Since it’s also non-combustible, there are no smoke-related toxins that may enter and disrupt your body.
Similarly, nicotine mouth sprays are a discreet and fast-acting NRT, allowing you to absorb — not swallow — the nicotine through the lining of your mouth. A study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research has shown that using the Nicorette QuickMist mouth spray can help with smoking abstinence throughout 26 weeks. Doctors recommend pairing these oral NRTs with long-acting nicotine patches for higher cessation rates. Over time, using these means you’ll be using fewer cigarettes and your gut can begin to heal.
Consume prebiotics and probiotics
Although smoking can either suppress your appetite or increase your cravings for high-fat foods, it’s crucial to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. Doing so can improve the gut microbiome and enhance your overall digestive system. Aside from the usual dietary nutrients like protein and fiber, a previous article on ‘Gut Health’ here suggests consuming camel milk, as it contains the prebiotics and probiotics necessary for correcting gut bacterial imbalances. Camel milk also contains minerals like selenium and zinc, which help relieve the symptoms of common digestive problems like inflammatory bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
If camel milk is hard to come by, another highly effective option is yogurt or cultured drinks. Popular brands like Yakult even have scientific proof of Lacticaseibacillus casei Shirota, which are known for their gut-aiding properties. As such, regularly consuming these can help regulate your microbiome’s good bacteria. When taken often, clinical studies have found that these can directly target gut issues caused by smoking, like constipation, bloating, and ulcers.
To summarize, the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome and increase the risk of digestive diseases. Fortunately, making lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and consuming prebiotics and probiotics can prevent, relieve, and manage the digestive damage caused by smoking.