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Steven Y Park, MD  
Male, 46
New York, NY

Specialties: Sleep-breathing disorders

Interests: Running, Baking, origami
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212-315-9058
New York, NY
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Can Smoking Be Good For You?

Dec 15, 2008 - 17 comments
Tags:

Smoking

,

yoga

,

breathing

,

stress



Despite all the really bad known consequences of smoking, there's one aspect of the act of smoking that may actually be beneficial. It's been shown that it takes about 1-2 minutes for nicotine to go through the bloodstream and reach your brain which gives you that "relaxed" feeling. But what most smokers will tell you is that they feel better after the first 1-2 deep inhalations. This tells us that there's something else besides nicotine that causing the relaxed feeling. Plus, since nicotine is a stimulant, how can it make you feel more relaxed?

I sometimes joke with my patients that in the typical workplace, the only people that get regular breaks are the smokers. Modern society has gotten rid of all the natural, built-in breaks. So smokers, by going out of their stressful environments every few hours, are taking grown-up time-outs. Not only are they taking these "breaks," as they puff in the cigarette smoke, they are actually performing deep breathing meditation exercises. They've associated the good feeling that they get with the physical act of smoking, which also happens to make you take in some slow deep breaths. This is the concept that George Wissing describes in his fascinating new book, Stop Smoking For The Last Time.

It's interesting to note that the act of inhalation is controlled by your sympathetic nervous system, which is the stress half of your involuntary nervous system. Exhalation is activated by the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation half. So by taking in a deep breath and releasing very slowly, you're spending more time activating your parasympathetic nervous system. This leads to a relaxing response. This is similar to what I described in my other article on singing. The relaxing breath that's taught in yoga is the same thing, where you're spending relatively more time in slow exhalation. This is why people feel so good after a yoga session.

By no means am I recommending that everyone who's stressed go out and start smoking. But by using these concepts, you can get the same benefits of smoking without inhaling the toxic chemicals from cigarettes. There are other various resources for learning deep-breathing exercises, such as Tai Chi or yoga. You can also buy CDs or videos that you can learn from and practice these techniques at home. Another great tip is to take short breaks every few hours, in between major activities and do 4 or 5 deep breathing cycles. Not only will you feel more relaxed, you'll be more focused and more productive for the activities at hand.

____________________________________________
Steven Y. Park, M.D., author of Sleep, Interrupted: A physician reveals the #1 reason why so many of us are sick and tired. Endorsed by New York Times best-selling authors Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Mark Liponis, and Mary Shomon.

www.doctorstevenpark.com

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by Lulu54, Dec 15, 2008
As an ex-smoker, thanks for recognizing that there is one important component to smoking.  The other benefit I always found was social - people who smoke at work tend to do it with companions who meet at those designated smoking spots and carry on brief conversations.  I do miss those moments ....
And you are absolutely right about neglecting to take those breaks now that I no longer smoke.  I think I'll start going outside to breathe.  Thanks for the idea.


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by ILADVOCATE, Dec 16, 2008
I think that could help people quitting smoking but actually there has been some research into antipsychotics that are nicotinergic agents, that affect the same receptors as nicotine without the harm. That's why people with schizophrenia often (myself not among them of course) self medicated with smoking cigarettes. Obviously, a physician would understand the complex nature of these studies much more than I but I summarized them for an entry in Wikipedia and the links are to the orignal articles from a clinical journal which explain it in detail.
  But I do find guided meditation and breathing excercises helpful and have never really been to practice them so they worked out so it is indeed something for me, and other people, to look into. Thanks.

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by nuclearpowerpants, Dec 16, 2008
Dr Park, How interesting! It makes a lot of sense. I love your open-mindedness about these issues...

Also, I think there's something attractive about breathing fire and exhaling smoke.. like a dragon. B )

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by Heather3418, Dec 16, 2008
Dr.Park,

I so enjoy your articles.  You are an excellent writer and write on topics that are of great interest.  Thank you so much for your contributions.  

I hope to keep seeing your articles on MedHelp.

Best Wishes,
Heather

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by arjunbht, Dec 16, 2008
. i enjoyed your article.keep on posting  some interesting medical fact . i am gonna start doing taichi becoz i am in china , the origin of taichi., inspired from your article... thanks. you docs.

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by LetaB, Dec 16, 2008
  Working for years in the restaraunt industry I always felt I was being punished for being a nonsmoker because, no matter how busy we'd be, we few nonsmokers would be left to hold down the fort while everyone else got a break. I have been fiercely against smoking all my life and now I have a 14 year old son who just can't seem to do without it! He suffers from anxiety and conduct disorders and says that they (cigarettes) relax him and allow him to be social. I'm finding there may be something to what he's been telling me. Thanks for the further information.

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by Steven Y Park, MDBlank, Dec 16, 2008
For those that want to quit smoking or know someone that wants to do the same, nicotine replacement therapy and more recently antidepressants and nicotine receptor blockers have been the mainstays of recommended treatment options. Unfortunately, the overall success rates are dismal, although they have been shown to be slightly better than placebos. I mentioned George Wissing's book, Stop Smoking For The Last Time previously. He argues that before the Surgeon General's report in the late 70s and early 80s (which implied that nicotine is as addictive as heroin), people going cold turkey had success rates in the 80-90% range. Now, for some reason, it's in the 10-20% range. Could it be because the pharmaceutical industry has convinced us that nicotine is a bad addiction that only they can help you with? Quite a controversial statement, but he makes an interesting and intriguing observation. Of course there are dozens, if not hundreds of other chemicals and poisons in cigarette smoke, but the main reason for the "addiction," Wissing argues, is that the process of taking slow, deep relaxing breaths is what's actually "addictive," which just happens to be coupled with inhaling cigarette smoke. He argues for mind-over-body techniques (neuro-linguistic programming) with hypnosis to take advantage of your natural, innate ability to quit for good. He bases his theory and treatment program on hundreds of people who suddenly stopped smoking for good, once they made up their minds (like a switch).

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by NautyOne, Dec 16, 2008
Very interesting.

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by ginger899, Dec 16, 2008
Interesting. As a 10 a day smoker myself (bad girl!) I wonder if it isn't the 'reward' chemical in the brain (what's it called?) which makes the difference? You are having something you enjoy, like the taste of, and are somewhat hooked on.... Same goes for enjoyable food when you're hungry, or other things.

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by drifter0213, Dec 16, 2008
smoking is a relief for schizophrenia- drifter0213

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by Lulu54, Dec 16, 2008
Thanks again for an interesting discussion.  The human body and mind seems to be wired for addiction - we get hooked on all sorts of good and bad things.

The idea that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for us not being able to quit cold turkey ( which I did thanks to a heart attack) is probably very accurate.  The manipulation of the prescription market for their profits is mind boggling and should probably be saved for a separate discussion sometime.

  I know about the cigarette addiction.  But now I find I have a swimming addiction - my body craves getting into the pool for therapy relief and I get grumpy and out of sorts if I can't get into the water.  My boss is a marathon runner and actually feels jittery if he can't get out and run.  Don't even get me started on food addictions, talk about a mixed bag or good and bad problems.

Here's to healthy addictions,
Lulu

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by Savas, Dec 16, 2008
Heh heh... I actually stopped smoking before I took my new job.

But as you said, the American workplace has become essentially a grueling, all day affair. Ironically, most everyone at my workplace smokes for this reason;

It gives us a legitimate excuse to escape for a few minutes every few hours and take a break from the workplace.

Frankly, I'd prefer the old fashioned 15 minute break in the morning and afternoon, but that's a thing of the past, when employees actually had rights.

I suspect upper management allows for it as there is less break time used up this way.

Plus, there would be blood on the floors of our business if he didn't allow for it. :->

Savas - Community Leader  to All Creatures Fuzzy and Small!

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by Mandapanda17, Dec 17, 2008
I am definitely going to go get that book! what an interesting concept, may help me quit once and for all! Thanks for the great read Dr. Park! :)

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by Ahrdee, Dec 17, 2008
Smoking seems to beneficial in Ulcerative Colitis … http://ibdcrohns.about.com/cs/ibdfaqs/a/smokingguts.htm

If this beneficial effect exists it is not necessarily due to nicotine, it could be due to any of the other hundreds of chemicals in cigarette smoke acting singly or in concert. It would be surprising if one of these chemicals did not have an anti-inflammatory or immune-suppressive effect: the treatments for UC.

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by Steven Y Park, MDBlank, Dec 17, 2008
Ahrdee,

Interesting article, thanks. I'm wiling to bet that if you did a randomized prospective study on regular breathing exercises (similar to breathing while smoking) to diminish stress and anxiety, the severity or frequency of ulcerative colitis will be improved. Interestingly, there have been papers suggesting a link between sleep-breathing problems and inflammatory bowel disease. Any kind of stress, whether physiologic, or external (emotional, physical or psychological) can affect impede good digestion and function.

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by irishwriter, Jan 21, 2009
hi. interesting article. thought you might be interested (prob not new) in some observations i made while in hospital last year. I noticed that the smokers were the ones most likely to be up and about more quickly than non-smokers as we had to make our way to smoking area or outside hospital to smoke. i noticed that on day three of some of the procedures non smokers were still reluctant to get out of bed while the smokers were making the long walk several times a day! don't mean to encourage anyone to smoke but even the exercise of the long walk to get outside had to be a good thing. smokers also did a great job of cheering each other up and everyone seemed to have helpful tips about recovery. the only downside was the complete lack of understanding of the addiction by the staff, even though i personally smoked less because the walk was actually difficult but did it anyway! i actually heard a nurse say to a patient 'well, you don't need your painkillers if you can go out to smoke!.

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by BarneyBear54, Jun 29, 2009
I congratulate you on your balanced article, at last some common sense on the subject! I do still smoke at the moment primarily because it has become a civil liberty issue. The zealous anti-smoking crusaders making absurd claims about SHS, and smoker mortality rates, is overhyped and driven by the greed of pharmaceutical corporations. Meanwhile the real reasons for rising cancer, asthma rates etc, with falling smoker numbers since the 1960's, are hidden by the "smokescreen" propaganda from the Tobacco Control movement.
The anti-smoking campaigns can be typified by stating "Trying to crack a nut with a sledge hammer"

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