Researchers have uncovered a new negative effect of smoking: The loss of the Y chromosome in blood cells in men. Researchers in Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S. worked together to further understand the consequences of smoking tobacco.
Following data that suggested smoking posed a greater risk of cancer in men than in women, the researchers set out to discover the specific effects on smoking men, according to LiveScience.
The researchers analyzed 6,000 men participating in three different studies in Sweden. The men reported information regarding their exercise habits, alcohol and smoking use, as well as blood pressure. The researchers took blood samples to determine levels of Y chromosomes.
The researchers found smoking led cells in men to lose the Y chromosome more often than in nonsmokers. When cells divide, occasionally chromosomes can be lost. In the case of smokers, the Y chromosome is often being lost in the process. Additionally, the more a man smoked, the fewer Y chromosomes he had, LiveScience reported.
In one study group, the men were between the age of 70 and 80, and 12.6 percent were missing Y chromosomes. In the second group, which had men of the same age range, 15.6 percent had fewer Y chromosomes than normal. In the third group, the men were between the ages of 48 and 93, and 7.5 percent were missing Y chromosomes.
When the researchers took the affect of age into account, the only factor linked to a reduction in Y chromosomes in blood cells was smoking. Compared to the nonsmokers in the study, smokers were up to 4.3 times more likely to lose their Y chromosomes.
The importance of the Y chromosome
According to the researchers, the loss of the Y chromosome may explain why men who smoke have a greater risk of cancer compared to women who smoke. Sometimes a missing chromosome will cause the cell to die, but in this case, cells can live without a Y chromosome. Biological function is disrupted in men with fewer Y chromosomes. Specifically, immune cells that would normally fight cancerous cells may not work as well without their Y chromosome, study author Lars Forsberg of Uppsala University in Sweden told LiveScience.
Hope for the future
While it is alarming to hear that smoking affects the structure and function of cells, there is good news. When men stop smoking, the cells without the Y chromosome will eventually die away.
"When you stop smoking, these cell clones with loss of [the] Y [chromosome] will disappear from circulation," Forsberg told LiveScience.