The Effects of Tobacco on Your Feet

As many people now know, the use of tobacco products can be detrimental to your health. Many people understand the vast number of respiratory ailments, ranging from emphysema to lung disease and cancer can occur as a result of smoking tobacco. Does anyone understand that smoking can also affect your feet?

One of many ingredients in tobacco is nicotine. Nicotine is believed to have many effects in the human body, both positive and negative. As any smoker will attest, nicotine has a calming effect. Many scientists are researching the effects of nicotine on the human body. Nicotine and its derivatives have been studied for its potential beneficial role in patients with Parkinson's disease and decreased attention span. Much of the literature clearly states that it is the nicotine receptors in our brain that need this purified nicotine or an analogue. The nicotine from tobacco does not provide this benefit.

The immediate effects of nicotine on the body include:

  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Thickening of blood
  • Narrowing of arteries
  • Decrease in skin temperature
  • Increase in respiration
  • Vomiting, and
  • Diarrhea

Long term effects of nicotine on the body include:

  • Blockage of blood vessels, thus a slower heartbeat than a non-smoker's at rest
  • Depletion of vitamin C
  • Reduction in the effectiveness of the immune system - making it harder to fight off dangerous infections
  • Cancer of the mouth; throat; and lungs
  • Cancer of the upper respiratory tract
  • Hurting physical fitness in terms of performance and endurance
  • Bronchitis and/or emphysema
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Weight loss
  • Dryness and wrinkling of skin, often times giving the skin a leathery appearance
  • Production of abnormal sperm, causing birth defects

Of importance in this discussion is the effect that nicotine has on your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart.

Nicotine has an effect on the sympathetic nervous system (part of the nervous system involved in the classic "fight or flight" response); part of this effect is to cause the blood vessels within the body to constrict. Since, hopefully, the same amount of blood is still going through the body, this results in a net increase in the pressure within the system (think of what happens when you squeeze a garden hose). Why is it bad? The increase in pressure has to come from somewhere, and that's the heart that is trying to pump against this. Also, higher pressure can lead the "blowing up" of blood vessels, called aneurysms (think again of that garden hose and what happens if you hold it bent for too long).

As we all age, there are plaques building up on the inside walls of our arteries. Some people have this peripheral vascular disease (PVD). It is commonly recognized in the hands and feet because these are the points farthest away from the heart where the blood vessels are the smallest.

This PVD in combination with the effects of nicotine can lead to a painful lack of blood flow to our feet. Our skin is a living organ, which means it needs to have nourishment to remain healthy. The arteries are the conduits to bring that nourishment to all aspects of our body.

People relate to sharp, deep stabbing pains. Some people even relate to having very painful ulcerations, or openings in their skin. When ulcerations occur, it can sometimes be very difficult and time consuming for the skin to heal. When there is an opening in the skin, an infection can begin and spread throughout the human body, which can ultimately lead to amputation or even death in the worst cases. Appropriate wound care should be initiated after a thorough examination has taken place.

Smoking can play a vital role in your everyday health as well as in the health of your feet. As you know, your feet are important. They get you to the many places you have to go. Be wise, take care of your feet, and see your podiatrist.

The following are just a few of the thousands of links regarding tobacco:

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms addressed, we strongly recommend that you seek the advice of your podiatrist for proper diagnosis.