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Impact of Smoking on Immune Response: New Study Findings


In the realm of public health, the enduring advice has tirelessly urged smokers to kick the habit while cautioning non-smokers against ever starting. Yet, emerging research paints a graver picture of smoking's detrimental effects, suggesting that its perils may surpass our previous understanding.


Long-term Effects of Smoking on Immune Function


Wednesday's publication in Nature highlights the urgent need to avoid smoking initiation. The study's revelations underscore a previously underestimated aspect: smoking significantly impairs immune function over an extended period.


After individuals quit smoking, their immune system began to rebound, showing signs of recovery in its ability to respond quickly and broadly to bacterial or viral threats. However, the restoration process was not uniform across all immune functions. While some aspects of immunity regained normal function relatively quickly, such as the innate responses, others, particularly the adaptive T cell defenses responsible for targeted and specific immune memory, exhibited a slower recovery trajectory. This delayed recovery suggests that certain immune functions may take more time to fully restore after quitting smoking, highlighting the importance of long-term health considerations for former smokers.


The research findings originate from the Milieu Intérieur project, a comprehensive study conducted in France to explore the influence of environmental factors on immune responses in healthy individuals. In this study, 1,000 participants provided valuable insights by completing surveys covering various aspects such as diet, lifestyle, demographics, and socioeconomic factors. Additionally, blood samples were collected for laboratory analysis, focusing on 13 cytokines associated with the body's immune defense mechanisms when exposed to 12 proteins related to microbial and viral infections.


Influences on Immune Responses: Understanding and Implications


In addition to smoking, body mass index (BMI), and cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, numerous other factors emerged as crucial influencers of immune responses. These encompass age, gender, dietary habits, physical activity, stress, sleep patterns, and environmental toxin exposure. The intricate relationship between lifestyle choices, environmental factors, and immune function underscores the multifaceted nature of immune system modulation.


Smokers exhibited a transient rise in inflammatory responses, which diminished post-smoking cessation. However, the impact on the adaptive immune system endured for years after quitting, affecting cytokine levels during infections or immune challenges. This highlights the lasting repercussions of smoking on immune health and underscores the need for awareness and preventive measures.


William Schaffner, an esteemed clinician and infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, highlighted the study's groundbreaking findings regarding smoking and immune response. Schaffner emphasized that while structural lung damage is a recognized risk of smoking, the research underscores the added vulnerability posed by compromised adaptive immune responses in smokers.


The researchers from Institut Pasteur attributed their findings to epigenetic alterations induced by smoking. They observed a decrease in DNA methylation at particular sites related to signaling pathways and metabolism, which influenced the production of cytokines and their response to immune stimuli.


During the press call, Violaine Saint-André, the lead author of the study, highlighted the significant long-term impact of environmental factors on health. She explained how epigenetic changes caused by these factors can alter gene expression, affecting immune responses. Saint-André compared this effect to the influence of age, sex, or genetics on disease risks, underscoring its importance in health research.


Tracking Health Progress and Prioritizing Vaccination for Smokers


The researchers plan to track the cohort further to assess the health outcomes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Schaffner highlighted the importance of confirming these laboratory findings with clinical observations, particularly regarding the impaired immune response in smokers. This emphasizes the need for prioritizing vaccination among smokers to bolster their immunity against potential risks.


Duffy reiterated the importance of avoiding smoking, emphasizing its negative impact on health. He emphasized the need to understand the additional health risks associated with smoking, stating that there is never a good time to start smoking and encouraging smokers to quit as soon as possible.

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