I don’t smoke, but my husband does, so I’m quite interested in the stories about how four times fewer people who smoke end up in the hospital with coronavirus, but if they are admitted, their outcomes are worse than those of non-smokers, possibly due to abrupt nicotine withdrawal.
This evidence that cigarettes have a protective effect against coronavirus for some populations is quite robust from country to country, yet there are some exceptions. The countries in which smoking seems to have a protective effect do not have an obesity epidemic and it is known that the virus uses fat cells to help itself reproduce.
In Texas, young people are showing up in the hospital with bad COVID cases and they frequently have a history of smoking, vaping, and obesity. It would make sense that if people start smoking in an effort to lose weight, any protective effect would be counteracted by underlying health issues. If a person with a healthy weight started smoking, you would get a completely different outcome.
I wanted to understand the mechanism of this protective effect from cigarettes, so I started reading.
I kept finding articles about the stress that the virus puts on T cells themselves and that in people who die from it, their lymph tissue shows a total collapse of the T cell population – like in an AIDS patient. As in, the virus went after the T cells and infiltrated the lymph tissue which went into overdrive and collapsed.
This is similar to what happens in the lungs of a COVID patient. It attacks the cells that typically mount a defense and then the body produces more defensive cells that get attacked and the whole system just gets gummed up with dead cells because the cells responsible for removing debris are overwhelmed.
I bet that is why smokers are dying of the disease less often than non-smokers – they already have an amped-up trash disposal system in their lungs and that keeps the system from getting gummed up when the rate of cell death suddenly spikes.
I can’t imagine that the constriction and hardening of smoker’s blood vessels helps them fight the disease, but sometimes understanding the balance of the human body is difficult. I’ve read articles about how COVID softens blood vessels to an unhealthy degree, so maybe this hardening acts as a counterbalance. In the medical literature, this balance is typically explained in terms of ACE2 expression.
This anti-inflammatory effect of nicotine might also play a helpful role throughout the body. It is well known that nicotine has a protective effect on the joints and the brain. Perhaps the constriction of blood vessels allows the trash disposal system of the cerebral spinal fluid and lymph fluid to behave more efficiently so that those systems don’t get gummed up with dead, decaying cells. When the blood vessels are constricted, other fluids flow more freely.
There is also a very interesting story about nicotine and vaccines, but that is a tangential issue: Human Experiments
I think that what nicotine does is similar to the exfoliation of skin with vitamin A. It causes the skin to turn over more rapidly and this makes it peel, but over time, it thickens it and makes it look younger. In a smoker’s lungs, their cells may be turning over more rapidly and creating a thicker layer of epithelial cells, but the drawback of having your cells turn over so much is that each time a cell is reborn, there is a probability that it will have an error in how the genetic code is copied and those errors can cause cells to become cancerous. [ … ]