That long-standing myth that smoking can keep you from packing on excess pounds? A new study puts the final nail in that coffin: Researchers found that exposure to cigarette smoke leads to metabolic changes that actually cause weight gain—and the secondhand kind may be more damaging.
In the study, the research team exposed one group of mice to secondhand smoke every day, while another group of mice had no exposure. They then ran tests on their metabolism. The mice exposed to passive cigarette smoke fattened up—thanks to cellular changes that led to insulin resistance, which brings on weight gain. Even though the study was conducted on animals, researchers speculate that the results hold true for people too. (Need to break your cig habit? The smell of black pepper could help! And that’s just one of The Best 7 Scents for Your Health.)
Clearly if you’re a smoker, this is just one more reason to quit. But if your exposure comes courtesy of nicotine-fiend friends, neighbors, or co-workers, steering clear of the cloud isn’t as easy. Since it’s hard to quantify how much secondhand smoke you’d have to inhale for the extra pounds to start showing up, researchers suggest avoiding even the smallest amount. That might mean opening a window during a car ride, investing in an air purifier, or just not hanging out with smokers as much—unless they promise to exhale a good distance away from you.
Another strategy: Eat well! “Much of the metabolic changes appear to be a consequence of inflammation…so it’s conceivable that ingesting higher levels of substances with anti-inflammatory actions might help,” explains Benjamin T. Bikman, Ph.D., study co-author and professor in the department of Physiology and Developmental Biology at Brigham Young University. That means lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains high in antioxidants as well as foods with omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon.
By Esther Crain