Researchers pinpoint link
between smoking, heart disease
May 3, 1996
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey
(CNN) -- A new study has revealed for the first time the biological link between smoking and heart disease.
Using a blood test, researchers have isolated a blood component, called advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), that is elevated in smokers.
Previously, researchers thought nicotine caused the blood vessels to constrict and build up plaque, reducing blood flow to the heart and contributing to heart disease.
AGEs are formed when tobacco leaves are dried. They produce sugars that in effect become a type of molecular glue when they enter the bloodstream. When a smoker inhales, the sugars are absorbed in the lungs and attach to the walls of arteries, eventually blocking the arteries -- a condition that can result in strokes or heart attacks. (718K QuickTime movie)
"They act as a molecular glue, which basically ties the proteins together and makes them stiff," explained Anthony Cerami of the Picower Institute. "And one of the important aspects that happens in people who smoke is that they get hardening of the arteries."
Cerami and his colleagues have developed a blood test that can detect levels of these reactive sugars in the body.
"We'll be able to tell how much smoke they've been exposed to probably for about a month period so it will offer a way of monitoring smoke exposure," Cerami said.
The test is still being refined and should one day help doctors calculate a smoker's risk of heart disease.
Cerami said the findings may also enable tobacco companies to remove the reactive sugars and develop a safer cigarette, but he notes that it wouldn't reduce a smoker's chances of getting lung cancer.
The researchers didn't set out to study smokers; their findings stem from years of research on diabetics. After learning diabetics had high levels of reactive sugars in their blood, the scientists discovered the same was true for smokers. For that reason, they said, diabetics who smoke are especially at risk for heart disease.
According to 1995 estimates, smoking-related heart disease kills 191,000 Americans each year -- a figure 44 percent higher than deaths from smoking-related lung cancer.
- Anti-smoking group says tapes prove company could have made safer cigarette - April 22, 1996
- Cigarette maker settles suit with 5 states - March 15, 1996
FeedbackSend us your comments.
Selected responses are posted daily.
Copyright © 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.