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How to Protect Your Liver from Secondhand Smoke

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Known to contain hundreds of poisonous chemicals, secondhand cigarette smoke requires the liver to filter out these toxins from the body. Luckily, there are ways you can protect yourself from this hard to avoid source of air pollution.

In order to live healthfully with chronic liver disease, it is important to learn how to minimize the quantity of toxins your body must filter out. As our primary toxin filtration system, the liver is charged with this crucial task. If unable to remove the poisons encountered on a daily basis, a person’s health deteriorates quickly. Scientific reports confirm that unintentional exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke results in significant toxicity. For a person trying to protect a challenged liver from toxins, shielding it from secondhand smoke is essential.

Toxins
There is little doubt that our environment is polluted with toxins and harmful substances. Defined as any compound that has a detrimental affect on cell function or structure, toxins damage the body in an insidious and cumulative way. Since a person with chronic liver disease has less of this organ available to detoxify any poisons in the body, it easily becomes overloaded. Once the internal detoxification system becomes overloaded, toxic particles accumulate rapidly and sensitivity to toxins rises dramatically.

The three primary ways for toxins to gain entrance into the body are through consumption, inhalation and absorption. While the majority of us focus our attention on what and what not to eat and drink, it is also important to consider what toxins we might be inhaling. Unfortunately, we can’t always control our environment to breathe only fresh, unpolluted air.

Secondhand Smoke
Just because you aren’t smoking a cigarette, does not mean your liver is immune to its damaging chemicals. Secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke coming from both the smoker and the cigarette:

· Mainstream smoke – the smoke inhaled and exhaled by the smoker.

· Sidestream smoke – the smoke released directly from the end of a burning cigarette.

When a cigarette is smoked, about half of the smoke is inhaled and exhaled by the smoker and the other half floats around in the air. Environmental tobacco smoke plays a part in more health problems than most people realize. While secondhand smoke may not kill as many people as smoking does, it is toxic and claims thousands of lives every year around the world.

Secondhand smoke is a toxic cocktail consisting of many poisons and carcinogens. There are over 4,000 chemical compounds in secondhand smoke, 200 of which are known to be poisonous, and upwards of 60 have been identified as carcinogens. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has officially labeled secondhand smoke as a “class A” cancer-causing substance. Class A is considered the most dangerous of cancer agents and there is no known safe level of exposure.

Some facts about secondhand smoke include:

1. The EPA estimates that the risk of developing cancer from exposure to second-hand smoke is about 57 times greater than the total risk posed by all outdoor air contaminants regulated under U.S. environmental law.

2. Secondhand smoke is a major source of indoor air pollution, and the greatest source of air particle pollution.

3. Exposure to secondhand smoke for or as little as 8 minutes causes physical reactions linked to cardiovascular disease.

4. Although only 3 in 10 people report being exposed to secondhand smoke, 9 in 10 people have detectable levels of secondhand smoke’s toxic chemicals in their bodies.

It is no wonder that an increasing number of government agencies are supportive of smoking bans, the best measure to prevent non-smokers from breathing air tainted with cigarette smoke.

Toxic Smoke is Outdoors, Too
Even with the increasing locations touting smoking bans to protect the public from secondhand smoke, there are still many places non-smokers are inundated by this source of air pollution. While a majority of the evidence around secondhand smoke toxicity revolves around indoor pollution, Stanford researchers have recently demonstrated a similar risk in outdoor locations.

As published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association (JAWMA), Stanford scientists concluded that a non-smoker sitting a few feet downwind from a smoldering cigarette is likely to be exposed to substantial levels of contaminated air for brief periods of time. “Some folks have expressed the opinion that exposure to outdoor tobacco smoke is insignificant, because it dissipates quickly into the air,” said Neil Klepeis, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and lead author of the study. “But our findings show that a person sitting or standing next to a smoker outdoors can breathe in wisps of smoke that are many times more concentrated than normal background air pollution levels.”

Health officials have become increasingly concerned about the effects of outdoor smoking. More than 700 state and local governments have passed laws restricting outdoor smoking at playgrounds, building entrances and other public areas, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Some of the strictest ordinances are in California. For example, the city of Santa Monica recently banned smoking at parks, beaches, automatic teller machines, theater lines, open-air restaurants and other outdoor locations.

Protecting Yourself from Secondhand Smoke
Unfortunately, every place you go isn’t likely to prohibit smoking. Instead of a person with liver disease living in fear of accidentally inhaling secondhand smoke, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself from the resulting toxicity:

· Become involved – If your community doesn’t currently ban smoking in public, get active in local organizations to educate political figures on the dangers posed by public smokers.

· Move away – According to Stanford researcher Klepeis, moving about six feet away from an outdoor smoker greatly lowers your exposure level to the smoke’s toxins.

· Protect your liver cells – In vitro studies demonstrate that supplementing with milk thistle strengthens the outer layer of liver cells, making them more resilient to damage from inhaled toxins.

Even though our society knows about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke, this habit is still tended to by millions of people all over the world. While having liver disease makes you more vulnerable to the perils of cigarette smoke, you don’t need to live in a bubble to protect yourself. By supporting anti-smoking legislation, keeping your distance from the toxic smoke and strengthening your liver cells from the offending poisons, you can protect yourself from the evils of secondhand smoke.


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http://magazine.jhsph.edu, Damning Evidence Against Secondhand Smoke, Lisa De Nike, Johns Hopkins University, 2007.

http://news-service.stanford.edu, Exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in outdoor settings a risk, study shows, Mark Shwartz, Stanford University, May 2007.

http://quitsmoking.about.com, Facts You Should Know About Secondhand Smoke, Terry Martin, About.com, 2007.

www.hc-sc.gc.ca, Cigarette Smoke – It’s Toxic, Health Canada, 2007.

www.holisticnaturopath.com, The Importance of Detoxification, Dr. Glen B. Cero, ND, RNC, MH, CES, CLS, Holistic Naturopathic Center, 2007.

www.qfac.com, Liver Cleanse - Liver Problems: A Serious Health Concern, QFAC, Inc., 2007.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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