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Exposure to secondhand smoke causes weight gain, BYU study shows

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Exposure to secondhand smoke causes weight gain, BYU study shows

By Marjorie Cortez | Posted - Nov. 4, 2014 at 7:53 a.m.



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PROVO — Exposure to secondhand smoke can result in weight gain, BYU researchers have determined.

A study published in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism found people who live with a smoker, particularly children, are at increased risk of cardiovascular or metabolic disease.

BYU researchers Benjamin Bikman and Paul Reynolds exposed lab mice to secondhand smoke and tracked their metabolic progression.

Mice exposed to smoke put on weight. The researchers determined that secondhand smoke exposure disrupted normal cell function and inhibited the cells’ ability to respond to insulin.

“The lungs provide a vast interface with our environment, and this research shows that a response to involuntary smoking includes altering systemic sensitivity to insulin,” said Reynolds, associate professor of physiology and developmental biology, in a university news release.

“Once someone becomes insulin-resistant, their body needs more insulin. And any time you have insulin go up, you have fat being made in the body,” he said.

Inhibiting the lipid ceramide is the key in reversing the effects of cigarette smoke, the researchers found. Lipids are molecules that contain hydrocarbons and make up the building blocks of the structure and function of living cells.


For people who are in a home with a smoker, particularly children, the increased risk of cardiovascular or metabolic problems is massive.

–Benjamin Bikman, BYU researcher


Mice treated with a ceramide blocker did not gain weight or experience metabolic problems, regardless of their exposure to the smoke, the researchers found. When mice exposed to cigarette smoke were also fed a high-sugar diet, the metabolic disruption could not be fixed.

In addition to working with mice, the BYU team also conducted research on muscle cells.

“For people who are in a home with a smoker, particularly children, the increased risk of cardiovascular or metabolic problems is massive,” said Bikman, the study’s lead author and professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU.

Bikman and his team, among other researchers worldwide, now seek a ceramide inhibitor that is safe for humans.

“The idea that there might be some therapy we could give to innocent bystanders to help protect them from the consequences of being raised in a home with a smoker is quite gratifying,” he said.

Giving up smoking, which Bikman acknowledges can be difficult for habitual smokers, would eliminate the need for this protection.

“Perhaps our research can provide added motivation as they learn about the additional harmful effects to loved ones,” he said.

Exposure to secondhand smoke

Half of the U.S. population is exposed at least once daily to secondhand cigarette smoke. Approximately 20 percent of young children live with a smoker. Each day, nearly 4,000 young adults smoke their first cigarette and 1,000 become habitual smokers.

In Utah, about 190,000 adults and more than 14,000 middle and high school students smoke, according to the Utah Department of Health’s 2010 Utah Tobacco Facts Report.

Secondhand smoke is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer and coronary heart disease in nonsmoking adults and an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, bronchitis, ear infections, and pneumonia in young children, according to the report.

In Utah, 16,000 children live in homes where someone smokes inside the home, according to the 2010 state report.

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Marjorie Cortez

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