| Could one cigarette a day kill you?

If you think having just one cigarette a day won’t do any harm, you’re wrong.

British researchers say lighting up just once a day is linked to a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke than might be expected.

The bottom line: “No safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease,” wrote the team led by Allan Hacksaw, of UCL Cancer Institute at University College, London.

Quit fully

“Smokers should quit instead of cutting down, using appropriate cessation aids if needed, to significantly reduce their risk,” the study authors said.

And it’s a warning to the young that even so-called “light” smoking carries a heavy price, one expert said.

No such thing as ‘lighter’ smoking

Young adults “often smoke lesser amounts than older adults”, noted Patricia Folan, who directs the Center for Tobacco Control at Northwell Health, in Great Neck, New York.

“These lighter-smoking young adults frequently do not even consider themselves smokers,” she said, but they are still at “risk of developing coronary heart disease from smoking even a small number of cigarettes.”

For the new study, Hackshaw’s team looked at data from 141 studies. Since the average cigarette pack contains 20 cigarettes, the researchers expected that the risk of heart disease or stroke for a 1-cigarette-per-day smoker would be just 5% of that of a pack-a-day user.

Risk of heart disease

But that just wasn’t the case. Instead, men who smoked just one cigarette a day still shared a full 46% of the increased odds for heart disease that a heavy smoker had, and 41% of the risk for stroke.

And women who smoked one cigarette a day had 31% of the pack-a-day smokers’ increased risk of heart disease, and 34% of their increased risk of stroke, Hackshaw’s group said.

When the researchers focused on studies that controlled for several other risk factors, they found that smoking just one cigarette a day still more than doubled women’s risk of heart disease.

The study was published on 24 January in The BMJ.

Many health problems

“We have shown that a large proportion of the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke comes from smoking only a couple of cigarettes each day,” Hackshaw said in a journal news release. “This probably comes as a surprise to many people. But there are also biological mechanisms that help explain the unexpectedly high risk associated with a low level of smoking.”

Dr Rachel Bond directs Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She agreed that “no amount of smoking is safe”.

She said that quit-smoking efforts can work, but “true success is to avoid [initiating] tobacco exposure altogether”.

How to quit smoking

In South Africa, 17.6% of all adults smoke tobacco, with men four times more likely to smoke than women. Out of current tobacco smokers, 29.3% have already been advised to quit smoking by their health practitioners, according to a previous Health24 article.

Is it time for you to kick the habit to the curb? Here’s what you can do:

  • Lay off the booze too, as social drinking situations may encourage you to smoke.
  • Get support from your family and friends.
  • Combine quitting smoking with exercise, as studies show that those who exercise are more likely to successfully quit smoking.
  • Don’t hesitate to use medication, as prescription drugs to help you quit have improved.
  • If smoking is your way of coping with stress, find alternative ways such as meditating to help you cope. 

Image credit: iStock | Should you eat before a workout?

Should you eat before you work out or not? It’s a question as old as the pursuit to get jacked, and even scientists have long debated this quandary.

And a new study has stepped up to answer the question by examining gene expression on fat tissue, according to Science Daily.

Read more: Here’s the eating schedule you should follow for optimal health

In a study to be published in the American Journal of Physiology, researchers at the University of Bath in the UK had a group of overweight males walk for 60 minutes on a maximum of 60% oxygen consumption.

First, they did so on an empty stomach. And in another run (or walk, rather), they ate a breakfast high in carbs two hours before the exercise.

To measure the distance, the researchers took multiple samples of blood and fat tissue.

Put simply, the answer to our question above is no. Fat tissue is busy responding to the meal during exercise, meaning less favourable changes to the tissue and less health benefits in the long term.

Read more: Is eating after 6pm really making you fat?

Put more complicated, the expression of two genes, PDK4 and HSL, increases after fasting and exercising and decreases after eating and exercising.

The rise in PDK4 likely indicates that stored fat was fuelling the metabolism in these men instead of the carbs. And the rise in HSL is typically indicative of fat tissue using stored energy in increased activity – like walking for 60 minutes on a maximum of 60% oxygen consumption, for example.

So, there’s your answer – for now, anyway. After all, as we’ve pointed out in the past, working out on an empty stomach doesn’t necessarily help you lose weight any faster than working out on a full stomach.

Read more: 16 totally doable weight-loss resolutions you should commit to this year

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Image credit: iStock 

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The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content. | ‘My hair started falling out at 8 years old but I’m done covering it up’

Often, hair is seen an integral part of a woman’s femininity and beauty. It’s something we’re taught and conditioned to believe from a young age, from the permeating presence of long-haired Barbie dolls to Disney princesses with floor-length, flowing locks.

Photographer Roché Permall was forced to confront these ideas at a very young age when she was diagnosed with alopecia, a condition that results in severe hair loss.

Here’s her story, and how she’s dealt with it.

The beginning 

When Roché was eight years old, her mom discovered a large, round patch toward the front of her head.

“She took me to see a dermatologist who prescribed topical cortisone cream to stimulate hair growth,” she says. “Within three months, all my hair had fallen out and I was completely bald.”

What followed was a circus of doctor’s waiting rooms, consultations and inspections. They’d been to hospitals, dermatologists, the UCT Skin and Hair Clinic, but nothing worked.

“They tried injections, shampoos and abrasives to stimulate growth,” says Roché.  “Everyone wanted to try something different. Then my eyebrows and eyelashes fell out to and my parents decided to stop it all.”

Roché’s mom felt that her daughter was being treated like a guinea pig, but no clear plan seemed to be in place to help her. In the end, her mom opted for a homeopathic treatment.

“Within two months, my eyelashes grew back and eventually my hair, too. I’ve been with Dr Jeggels since then,” says Roché. 

Read more: “I lost my hair to lupus — this is why I’ve stopped wearing a wig”

Growing up without hair

At first, Roché covered up her head with hoodies and a bandana. In high school, she opted for a bandana with a scarf over her head. Eventually, she settled for a black scarf that she tied into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her strands would grow back, and then in other periods, it would fall out.

 She also tried laser therapy, hair pieces and wigs to cover up, but it didn’t work very well.

“[Wigs] were uncomfortable and made me feel more insecure,” she says. The really nice ones, made from 100% human tresses, were just too pricey.  

Read more: Khloé Kardashian had severe hair loss after this traumatising event

Because Roché was so young, everything seemed confusing to her.

“It was really hard as a young girl to go through all this emotion. I could never understand why me!” she says.

Added to that, without hair, she was different to the girls at school. Primary school proved exceptionally tough.

“Children couldn’t understand what was exactly wrong. Some children felt sorry for me and didn’t know what to say to me, and others bullied me a lot, which left me in tears.” She became withdrawn and depressed, despite seeing a counsellor to work through her insecurities.

Finally, in high school, she found a group of friends that made everything bearable. “I joined the drum majorettes and met some friends who accepted me and that’s ultimately what any normal child needs: support and comfort. Some of those girls remain my friends to this day!” she says. 

Roché and a friend

What she’s learnt

While society’s making huge strides toward rewriting the narrative about what a woman should look like (or wear, or even date), the conversation around hair still needs to be teased in its many forms.

“I still get pretty emotional about not having a full head of hair,” says Roché. “Not a day goes by that I don’t find myself admiring women with long, beautiful hair. But I’ve realised at the age of 26 that hair shouldn’t define you. You are bigger and better than hair. 2018 has already been a big change. I’ve decided to go public with my condition on social media and I’ve decided to go completely bald and shave the last bit of my hair.” 

Having a support system has also been the biggest help for Roché.

“My boyfriend for being the greatest at helping me out and just always being my side for the past fours years of my life. He accepted me, flaws and all, and I am truly grateful. The support from friends and family have been completely amazing,” she says.

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Image credits: Supplied