Most studies on the effects of smoking suggest that smoking increases the risk of having a bone fracture and the evidence is mounting. For example:
The longer you smoke and the more cigarettes you consume, the greater your risk of bone fracture in old age. Because I was 72 and approaching old age, I stopped smoking a year ago in May.
Smokers who fracture bones may take longer to heal than non-smokers and may experience more complications during the healing process.
Significant bone loss has been found in older women and men who smoke.
At least one study suggests that exposure to second- hand smoke during youth and early adulthood may increase the risk of developing low bone mass.
Women who smoke often produce less estrogen and tend to experience menopause earlier than non-smokers, which may lead to increased bone loss.
Quitting smoking appears to reduce the risk of low bone mass and fractures. However, it may take several years to lower a former smokers risk.
Bone damage is arguably the least publicized of tobacco’s harms.
The first time many smokers ever hear of the problem is if they need a spinal fusion. A back operation that many surgeons often won’t perform unless patients kick the habit -with an urine test to prove they quit. That’s because the surgery is far more likely to fail in smokers than in non-smokers.
Smokers who break a leg require 62 % more time to heal.
Then there’s the silent toll smoking can wreak by contributing to bone-thinning osteoporosis.
Yet tobacco’s nicotine provokes a powerful addiction; it can take repeated attempts to succeed in quitting. Those who do often use nicotine patches or gum to wean themselves. According to orthopedic specialist Michael Zuscik of the University of Rochester, his early research suggests nicotine may be a key bone-damaging culprit- and that it does its dirty work almost immediately by affecting stem cells stored in the bone marrow, called mesenchymal stem cells , that move in to begin healing an injured bone.
"The most important steps that occur involving these mensenchymal stem cells happen during the first days and weeks of the healing process," Zuscik explains, "The whole thing is kind of derailed."
Armed with a $1.4 million grant from the Defense Department , Zuscik is out to prove that theory and whether going cold-turkey for a short time after breaking a bone or undergoing bone surgery might help smokers heal faster.
It’s of interest to the military because surveys show up to 34% of troops smoke, compared with 22% of the general population, and bone damage is common among soldiers injured in combat.
While the link between smoking and bone harm is clear, no one knows why it occurs, Dr. Thomas Einhorn, chairman of orthopedic surgery at Boston University.