Full disclosure: While my bio photo on the sidebar is of me smoking a fake hand-rolled cigarette, I don’t personally smoke and I don’t suggest that anyone else does so either. Nowadays most individuals are at least vaguely aware of some of the health problems associated with smoking. Many of us have at least one friend or family member that, due to their smoking habit, has a permanent cough (or worse). But more recently, research has started to expose other negative effects of cigarette smoking, namely stunted growth. So, what’s the reality of this situation? Can puffing a few cigarettes really stunt your growth?
What’s The Evidence Before Smoking Being Linked To Stunted Growth?
The most compelling evidence I’ve found comes from a Canadian study that was originally published in 2008. This study made a direct correlation between the height of over 1,300 male boys and their smoking habits, finding that teenaged smoking males between 14 and 18 years old are on average over an inch shorter than their counterparts who abstain from the habit.
So what’s the reasoning here, as far as scientists can tell? Well, their first guess centered around the functions of the pituitary gland. This organ is responsible for producing almost all of the important hormones related to growth. It would only make sense that if you’re looking for changes in the size of the human body, you’d look here first. However, from the research conducted, it seems that pituitary function has no direct connection to cigarette consumption.
Breathe In The Facts
Next, they decided that perhaps one of the most obvious effects of smoking was to blame, namely lung capacity and other breathing-related issues. They thought that perhaps a lack of oxygen in the blood might make a likely culprit. In this second instance the researchers hit paydirt, and here’s why.
Carbon Monoxide Issues
Smoking cigarettes does produce an increase in the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood, which replaces some of the oxygen that would normally be present. This carbon monoxide also diminishes other trace minerals and vitamins that our bodies need for a slew of functions, such as tissue repair and muscle growth. Habitual users will, therefore, see a regular decrease of these important biological ingredients. So, when their body looks to the blood to repair a certain area, the now-deoxygenated blood will do so much more slowly.
The Testo Connection
There’s another reason that this may affect growth in males more than females, and that’s testosterone. There’s limited evidence to suggest that habitual smokers may suffer from decreased production of this muscle building, the fat burning hormone. While it’s a lesser component of the body’s mechanisms for growth, and researchers still haven’t pinned down the cause for this correlation, it’s possible that this factor plays a role in stunted growth as well.
Interestingly, the Canadian study also touched on the old idea that teenage girls who smoke are on average thinner. This part of the research proved the adage wrong, as the girls were almost identical regarding BMI and height. These results were more or less what the researchers were expecting, as there was never any actual statistical evidence to suggest that this idea was anything other than anecdotal.
So what does this mean for either you or your loved ones, as far as your height is concerned? Not too terribly much, for most of us. While there is indeed enough evidence here to make a case for stunted growth from cigarettes, it’s merely a tiny slowdown that by itself has minimal effects. Practically speaking, you’ll merely be growing just a fraction less efficiently than you otherwise would. Secondhand smokers have to worry even less, as the trace amounts of cigarette smoke that enter their bodies usually aren’t enough to have a noticeable effect.
Where this is more of a concern is for both mothers carrying children, and adolescent boys who are in their biggest periods of growth. Generally speaking, children are in a state of rapid growth from infancy, all the way into their early 20s. During this time it’s crucial that they get everything their bodies need.
Based on my research, the evidence is clear that smoking can and will adversely affect boys and young men as they grow into adulthood. That said, if you’re a young guy or a young boy, don’t be a moron, put the cigarette down! That holds especially true for kids that are athletes and play sports every day.