Effects of Smoking on the Stomach

Most all of us know the hazards of smoking as relates to lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease, after all, more than 400,000 Americans die each year from cigarette smoking, and one in five U.S. deaths are smoking related. Even with the campaign for consumer awareness, and the fact that most adults know full well that smoking is detrimental to their health, estimates show that a full one-third of all adults still smoke. What many people are not as aware of is how damaging smoking can be for the rest of your body, most especially your digestive system.


On the relatively minor end of how smoking affects the stomach, lies heartburn, although chronic sufferers of heartburn would probably take exception to classifying it as "minor." Over 50 million Americans suffer from the effects of heartburn at least once per month, while 15 million suffer on a daily basis. Heartburn is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux, which occurs when the natural juices of the stomach flow backward into the esophagus. While our stomachs have a natural protection against these digestive juices, our esophagus-the tube which connects the mouth to the stomach-is not so fortunate. In healthy people, a muscular valve at the lower end of the esophagus known as the lower esophageal sphincter, keeps the acids out of the esophagus and in the stomach where they belong. Smoking, however, severely compromises the LES, weakening it and allowing stomach acid free rein to the esophagus. Smoking can either create heartburn on its own, or can make existing heartburn much more severe.

Peptic Ulcers

If you have a sore in the lining of your stomach, or the beginning of the small intestine, known as the duodenum, you may have what is known as a peptic ulcer. One in ten Americans will have an ulcer at some point in their life, and while some peptic ulcers are caused from certain bacteria, others can be caused by long-term use of NSAIDS. While stress and eating spicy foods cannot cause peptic ulcers, they can exacerbate the symptoms of peptic ulcers. Those who smoke are at an extremely elevated risk of developing an ulcer; if a person already has an ulcer, smoking can keep it from healing, even if you are taking medication for the ulcer. Smoking also significantly increases your risk of infection from the bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori, which often leads to severe stomach ulcers. Smoking can also reduce the amount of bicarbonate in the body, as well as increasing the amount of acid your stomach routinely secretes.

Liver Disease

The liver is an incredibly important organ in the human body as it is responsible for processing drugs, alcohol and toxins, effectively removing them from the body. Smoking impairs your liver's ability to process harmful substances and can greatly worsen liver disease which is caused by excess alcohol consumption.

Crohn's Disease

Crohn's disease causes unnatural swelling in the intestinal lining, causing pain and diarrhea. Current and former smokers have been shown to have a much higher risk of developing Crohn's disease than non-smokers, and those who smoke are linked with a much higher rate of relapse, repeat surger and the need for drug therapy.

Reversing the Damage

While some of the effects of smoking on the digestive system may be reversible, or of short duration, others appear to be long-lasting. Within a half-hour of smoking, the bicarbonate returns to a fairly normal level, and the effects on the liver also seem to mostly disappear once a person stops smoking. However, even those who have quit smoking are still at a considerable risk for the effects of Crohn's disease.