The Effects of Cigarette Toxins – Cyanide

Thank you for checking part 5 of our analysis of the toxic ingredients of cigarettes – Cyanide. We previously discussed the dangers of Formaldehyde [click here], and we will focus next time on Nicotine.

Cyanide is a toxin found in cigarette smoke that prevents cells from producing energy. Among all toxins contained in cigarettes, it presents the greatest danger to the cardiovascular system. It is also responsible for compromising lungs’ ability to defend themselves from microorganisms. Cigarettes contain cyanide because it is a naturally occurring compound in the leaves of the tobacco plant[1]. The plant uses cyanide as a self-defense mechanism to prevent itself from being eaten by herbivores and insects. When a cigarette is ignited, hydrogen cyanide is released from the tobacco and is inhaled into the lungs and bloodstream of anyone who is exposed to the smoke.

A review of toxicological studies published in 2003 states that smoking even a single cigarette per day can result in enough chronic cyanide exposure to cause cardiovascular toxicity[2]. For obvious reasons, the heart is one of the most energy dependent organs in the body. When cyanide interacts with cardiac muscle cells, it shuts down their mitochondrial energy production by inhibiting the enzyme cytochrome c oxidase[3]. The cells may either die or fail to power heart contractions as a result. This places stress on the heart, especially in combination with the hypertensive and stimulatory effects of nicotine that increase heart rate and blood pressure[4].  In effect, smoking weakens cardiac muscle cells while forcing them to work harder.

Another danger of cyanide is that it weakens the body’s resistance to respiratory infection. Salivary and myelo peroxidase are enzymes that destroy bacteria, and they exist in the mouth and in the linings of the lungs. Studies demonstrate that cigarette smoke reduces the activity of these enzymes by as much as 76%[5]. This renders the upper digestive tract and lungs more susceptible to microbial infection.

The direct antidote to cyanide is hydroxocobalamin or methylcobalamin, a biologically active variant of vitamin B12[6]. This vitamin can chelate cyanide compounds, remove them from the body, and restore peroxidase activity by 70-90%[5]. Hydroxocobalamin is an important vitamin that can benefit anyone, but smokers should consider themselves especially in need. Activated charcoal is another chelating agent that has the ability to remove cyanide from the bloodstream[7]. These supplements should be taken immediately prior to smoking or within 4 minutes after smoking.

Similar to formaldehyde, cyanide does not persist for a long period of time in the body. It causes acute damage within 4-10 minutes after exposure, which means that cyanide exposure and damage can immediately be reversed by quitting cigarettes[8]. If quitting is not an option, smokers should ensure that they are taking a daily supplement of hydroxocobalamin or methylcobalamin. Remember that this is a special form of B12. Beware that most supplements contain B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin, which is NOT effective at chelating cyanide.

If you have any question about this blog and/or the natural remedies described, feel free to leave your question or comment in the section provided below. We love to hear from you.

Our next blog on this subject will focus on Nicotine – check back with us soon!

Jeff Riddle and Paul Tsui

[1] Global Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences Vol. 11(4) 2005: 487-490.

[2] Tob Control 2003;12:424-430.

[3] Indian J Exp Biol. 2010 Jul;48(7):731-6.

[4] Blood Press. 1996 Mar;5(2):71-7.

[5] Free Radic Biol Med. 2003 Dec 1;35(11):1448-52.

[6] Ann Trop Paediatr. 2010;30(1):39-43.

[7] How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General.

[8] Clin Chem. 1987 Jul;33(7):1228-30.


Posted by Paul


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