Tobacco smoke is contaminated with more than 7,000 toxic substances such as tar, arsenic, nicotine and cyanide. Over 60 of these chemicals are carcinogenic ingredients. What is lesser known is that tobacco also contains radioactive materials; polonium-210 and lead-210, which can accumulate in the lungs of the smokers for decades, leading to lung cancer . Tobacco smoke can cause many other types of cancer including cancers of the mouth, larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat), oesophagus (swallowing tube), stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, cervix, colon/rectum and myeloid leukaemia . In addition, it increases the risk of premature death, pulmonary and respiratory disorders such as chronic bronchitis, coronary heart disease, and stroke and even carries profound health risks to an unborn child.
These are some really compelling reasons to stop smoking and yes, people indeed are aware that kicking the butt can save their lives and prevent chronic illnesses that can impact the quality of life. However, it is still tough to get out of the addictive snare. Most smokers want to quit. And while they are eager to take the plunge, they will also tell you kicking the habit can be challenging, messy and difficult, hence the high rate of relapse. Blame it on the aggressive physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms, which although temporary are intense enough to drive one towards the relapse route.
Nicotine works like other drugs, such as cocaine, in altering the brain chemistry and promoting drug seeking behaviour which is not easy to overcome without some medical, psychological and physiological intervention. While most standard smoking cessation methods include chemicals and drugs based approach such as nicotine patches and gums, there are some natural and scientifically proven ways that can effectively help tame the cravings and provide relief from stressful nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Acupuncture is an effective drug-free therapy to reduce uncomfortable nicotine withdrawal symptoms, especially craving in people trying to quit smoking. The rationale behind this belief is that cues associated with smoking (for example seeing someone smoking, holding or handling cigarettes etc.) produce strong urges and cravings to smoke and activate the regions of the brain involved in attention, motivation, and reward – an action that promotes drug (nicotine) seeking behaviour.
A 2013 study published in Psychopharmacology (Berl)  suggested that the craving scores were significantly decreased after acupuncture treatment and concluded that, “Acupuncture alleviates cue-induced cravings through the regulation of activity in brain regions involved in attention, motivation, and reward relative to craving scores in the initial abstinence phase.”
Hypnotherapy or hypnosis may be helpful alternative therapy to cope with nicotine withdrawal and smoking cessation. This method of intervention works by employing visualization and breathing exercises to induce a state of trance, which is just another term of heightened relaxation as well as increased awareness and focus. This technique basically harnesses a smoker’s motivation to kick the habit, and banks on creating a mind that is receptive to healthy suggestions. Experts in this field believe that the therapy can be a powerful therapeutic tool if you are really motivated to let go of the habit and want to make positive changes and replace smoking with effective, healthy habits. This is when the suggestions take root most effectively. In addition, the role of cognitive, behavioural and educational interferences in such treatments can’t be ruled out in achieving the desired result.
According to a study by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, when combined with nicotine patches (NP) hypnosis is as effective as standard behavioural counselling in helping smokers quit, and showed this intervention technique was significantly more effective than behavioural counselling in smokers with a history of depression. The study concluded that “hypnosis combined with nicotine patches compares favourably with standard behavioural counselling in generating long-term quit rates.” . While not many studies regard hypnosis as a well-established treatment for smoking cessation, a meta-analysis that reviewed 59 studies of hypnosis concluded that “it seems justified to classify hypnosis as a “possibly efficacious” treatment for smoking cessation.” 
- Mindful Meditation
Based on century old Buddhist traditions, the practice of mindful meditation is known to reduce psychological distress and to promote a calm state of mind and over well-being. Mindful meditation is the process of voluntarily shifting one’s understanding of a stressful situation from threat to acceptance – minimizing stress and anxiety, increasing positive emotions and directing unproductive worry into meaningful action.
Mindfulness training has started to show positive results in a number of psychiatric disorders, such as in reducing stress, depression, anxiety and even addictions. A 2011 study, conducted by the Yale University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, evaluated this technique for smoking cessation and concluded that “this initial trial of mindfulness training may confer benefits greater than those associated with current standard treatments for smoking cessation.” 
Another study showed that this practice can help reduce nicotine cravings concluding that mindfulness training “may be effective as a treatment for smoking cessation and that informal mindfulness practice predicts a decoupling of the association between craving and smoking.” 
- Fresh Lime
A 2012 study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand showed that fresh lime can be used effectively as a smoking cessation aid . It is an easily available, cheaper and non-toxic alternative to nicotine substitutes, which carry their own risks and side effects. Lime has tremendous other health benefits that smokers can make use of considering their impaired immunity. Lime shows high anti-microbial properties against multiple strains of drug resistant E. coli and destroying cholera causing pathogen.
When you are trying to ditch an old habit, what better way to fill the gap than exercise. Regular exercise is known to impart multi-pronged health benefits such as weight loss and reduced risk of heart disease, and reduces the risk of high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. It can also help in supressing nicotine cravings, cleansing the body of toxins and releasing brain chemicals that make you energetic, happy and relaxed. A study published in Addiction showed the relation between physical activity and acute reduction in cigarette craving . When you are using your time and focus on staying physically active, it is also distracting your thoughts away from smoking. So next time you feel the desire to reach out for a cigarette, engage in some sort of physical activity, be it running, swimming, cycling or biking.
- Nutrition, Herbal remedies and Supplements
Smoking robs the body of important nutrients and affects the body's ability to absorb and utilize a range of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants – powerful tools that fight free radicals, maintain brain health and help the body to deal with stress and depression. Eating a healthy diet comprising of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables is a great starting point supplying your body with these tools. In addition, certain vitamins and herbs are especially known to help in the smoking cessation process and are in fact required by the body to limit and control the damage caused by the harsh, toxic chemicals present in the tobacco smoke.
Vitamin C: It is a well-established fact that smoking depletes the levels of Vitamin C and it is used much faster in smokers. Just one cigarette can make your body poorer by 25 mg of Vitamin C. A study showed that six puffs of cigarette smoke can deplete the entire amount of Vitamin C in the body . Smoking subjects the body to an overwhelming amount of oxidative stress, thus resulting in an increased metabolic turnover of vitamin C and also other anti-oxidants to counter the free radical damage.
Vitamin C provides protection against smoking-induced oxidative damage and also helps in relaxing blood vessels in smokers, who are prone to suffer from impaired endothelial functions and thus are at a very high risk of atherosclerosis, hypertension and cardiovascular damage. Vitamin C helps to achieve high endothelial efficiency as well as vasodilation through various mechanisms, for example by scavenging superoxide radicals, protecting intracellular glutathione or increasing the availability of NO  . Vitamin C supplementation in pregnant smokers also reduces the toxic effects of smoking in new-borns .
Besides being a potent anti-oxidant itself, it also helps the body to recycle Vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant. It is a support that smokers can clearly benefit from. Short-term supplementation with Vitamin C can also reduce nicotine cravings and help the body to flush toxins such as cadmium, lead and even nicotine from the liver and kidneys. By supporting adrenal gland functions, Vitamin C helps deal with additional stress exerted on the body when one is trying to quit smoking. Interestingly, our adrenal glands contain the highest concentration of vitamin C, which is almost 100 times more than the amount present in blood plasma.
Vitamin B: The B family of Vitamins plays a crucial role in maintaining nervous system health. Smoking depletes the levels of Vitamin B12, B6 and folate. A study published in Public Health Nutrition suggested that in comparison to non-smokers, smokers have low serum folic acid concentrations, which may result in the development of vascular and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, the study also concluded that a higher white blood cell count might indicate changes in the immune functions of smokers . However, it is important to note that Vitamin C interacts with, and destroys Vitamin B12 in the digestive tract. It is, therefore, recommended not to take Vitamin B 12 and Vitamin C together.
Vitamin D: Studies suggest that cigarette smoke is associated with low levels of Vitamin D  and smoking is considered a significant determinant of low serum vitamin D . Vitamin D deficiency contributes to a higher risk of various ailments in people who smoke – including osteoporosis, cancer, low immunity, upper respiratory tract infections and heart disease. A 2013 research that was published online on Clinical Chemistry, suggests that decreased levels of vitamin D may put smokers at higher risk of developing tobacco-related cancer . The study also highlights that Vitamin D supplements can improve a smokers’ health.
Herbal remedies like Ginseng, St. John’s Wort, Milk thistle and Rhodiola rosea in particular are believed to reduce withdrawal symptoms and help fight nicotine addiction. These herbs are known to help the body cope with stress, uplift the mood, and boost stamina and energy levels. Milk thistle also supports liver in getting rid of toxins.
Make sure you are using any herbal remedies and supplements under the guidance of your health care professional or expert to avoid any side effects or negative interactions.
The bottom line is that no amount of healthy diet, nutrition supplements and herbal remedies can defend the body against the body-wide damage caused by smoking. These steps are of course important but they only serve to minimize the health risks and negative impact. The only way you can completely protect the body from any further damage is to quit smoking altogether. Are you ready to live a healthy, vibrant, disease-free life? We say you deserve it.
- Cigarette Smoking and Radiation. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Health Risks of Smoking Tobacco. American Cancer Society.
- Kang et al. Neural substrates of acupuncture in the modulation of cravings induced by smoking-related visual cues: an fMRI study. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013
- Carmody et al. Hypnosis for smoking cessation: a randomized trial. Nicotine and Tobacco Research. 2008
- Joseph P. Green & Steven Jay Lynn. Hypnosis and suggestion-based approaches to smoking cessation: An examination of the evidence. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 2000
- Brewer et al. Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: results from a randomized controlled trial. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2011
- Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: moderation of the relationship between craving and cigarette use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2013
- Rungruanghiranya S, Ekpanyaskul C, Sakulisariyaporn C, Watcharanat P, Akkalakulawas K. Efficacy of fresh lime for smoking cessation. Journal of The Medical Association of Thailand. 2012
- Haasova M et al. The acute effects of physical activity on cigarette cravings: systematic review and meta-analysis with individual participant data. Addiction. 2013
- Eiserich JP, tan der Vliet A, Handelman GJ, Halliwell B, Cross CE: Dietary antioxidants and cigarette smoke induced biomolecular damage: a complex interaction. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1995, 62(6):1490S-1500S.
- LV d Uscio et. Al. Long-Term Vitamin C Treatment Increases Vascular Tetrahydrobiopterin Levels and Nitric Oxide Synthase Activity. Circulation Research. 2003
- Motoyama et al. Endothelium-dependent vasodilation in the brachial artery is impaired in smokers: effect of vitamin C. American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology Published 1 October 1997
- Cindy et al. Vitamin C Supplementation for Pregnant Smoking Women and Pulmonary Function in Their Newborn Infants. JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2014;311(20):2074-2082. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.5217.
- Tungtrongchitr R et al. Relationship of tobacco smoking with serum vitamin B12, folic acid and haematological indices in healthy adults. Public Health Nutrition. 2003
- Jeff Nicklas. Does cigarette smoke exposure affect vitamin D status?. Vitamin D Council. 2014
- Kassi EN et al. Smoking is a significant determinant of low serum vitamin D in young and middle-aged healthy males. Hormones (Athens). 2014
- Shoaib Afzal, Stig E. Bojesen, Børge G. Nordestgaard. Low Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Risk of Tobacco-Related Cancer. Clinical Chemistry. 2013.