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Smoking and Kidney Health

March 1, 2019 (Updated: August 3, 2021)
Lily Moran

Pop quiz: What are the health risks of smoking? I’m willing to bet that “lung cancer” was your first answer. Maybe even high blood pressure or higher chances of heart attack and stroke. Those are correct answers, but to me it’s only the beginning of the conversation about smoking.

Cigarette toxins wreak havoc all over your body seconds after they enter your bloodstream. And your kidneys are directly in the line of fire of nicotine, carcinogens, and the thousands of other toxins found in cigarettes.

Yes, thousands. And here’s what they do.

As soon as your first inhale, your blood pressure jumps. High blood pressure damages artery linings, which then attract the attention of inflammatory cells and cytokines. This inflammation in your arteries restricts the blood supply to your kidneys.

Now, detoxifying your body is your kidneys’ primary job. But they need clean and healthy blood to do it effectively. Think of it like washing 3 or 4 little kids in one tub; because you’re trying to save water, there’s more dirt in the bath than if you washed them one at a time.

Numerous studies have linked smoking to chronic kidney disease and end stage renal disease. Both are uncomfortable at best, fatal at worst. And smoking’s effect on your kidneys is more pronounced if you already have type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

Not to mention, those cigarette carcinogens promote cancer of the kidneys, in addition to the other organs they attack.

What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Smoking

Smoking is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s truly alarming, but I take comfort in knowing that smoking is one of the most preventable causes of death, too.

Just take a look at how quickly your body recovers when you stop smoking.

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  • In 20 minutes, your blood pressure and pulse return to normal. Your hands and feet warm up to their normal temperature, too.
  • In 8 hours, the nicotine and carbon monoxide in your blood is halved. This is important because those agents gunk up your blood, causing problems to your kidneys, heart, muscles, brain, and so much more. As nicotine and carbon monoxide levels drop, oxygen levels rise back to normal.
  • In 12 hours – less than half of a day – carbon monoxide levels are back to normal. Your heart doesn’t have to pump so hard to deliver oxygen to your body.
  • In 48 hours, your body is free of nicotine. Your lungs are tossing out mucus, causing a lot of coughing. But this is a good thing.
  • By the end of the third day, you have more energy and it’s noticeably easier to breathe.

And that’s just the beginning. Go longer and you’ll have increased your life expectancy and reduced your chances of lung cancer, renal disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and more.

But let’s be frank. You can’t just quit smoking by snapping your fingers. During those first few weeks and beyond, you’ll have made gigantic strides but you’ll also feel cravings.

Before you quit, have an action plan specifically for these cravings – chew gum, drink water, take a walk, or anything else that you think will turn your mind away from cravings.

The other thing you have to plan for is changing your routines. You probably have certain places, people, and activities that prompt you to light up. If you always wind up your golf game in a cigar lounge or take a minute to relax after you wash the dishes with a smoke outside, how can you change your routines to skip the step where you smoke? What new habit are you going to create?

I also suggest that you set up a reward system for yourself for every successful smoke-free day. For example, let’s say you smoke a pack a day, and each pack costs $8. Put $248 ($8 for every day of the month) in an envelope or savings account. Make plans to spend that money on something nice – a new wardrobe, a weekend getaway, or whatever you fancy. But every day you smoke, instead give $8 to the Foundation for a Smoke Free America or the charity of your choice.

That turns every cigarette into something that causes you an immediate loss, instead of the more distant threat of ill health.

Quitting – One Smoke-Free Day at a Time

For your kidneys, your lungs, your heart, the rest of your body, I strongly urge you to stop smoking immediately. Be realistic about how to quit. Some people do it cold turkey, and some people wane themselves down to zero cigarettes a day.

Whatever your vehicle, take it slowly. One smoke-free day at a time is a fine goal considering how important this is. My hope is that months from now you’ll look in the review mirror and see how far you’ve come and notice how much better you feel.


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