It’s never too late to quit smoking: abandoning this bad habit awakens special cells that help the lungs to regenerate.
This was discovered and published in Nature by a team of researchers from University College London (UCL), with a study based on the latest data from the National Statistics Institute.
These “newly awakened” cells are situated in the submucous glands and are present only in ex-smokers, while they result absent or imperceptible in those who still smoke. These cells seem to protect against cancer as they remain intact while smoking, unlike other lung cells. The latter, in fact, undergo genetic mutations, transforming from healthy to carcinogenic cells due to the chemicals present in tobacco smoke.
When you stop, the unknown cells grow and replace the damaged ones in the lungs, so much so that, in the ex-smokers analyzed, up to 40% of the cells were healthy, as if they had never smoked.
It is not yet known how these cells are born, how they resist mutations and why they appear in those who have quit smoking. The fact is that their presence is essential to a healthy recovery, even if you have been a smoker for a lifetime… as shown by one of the participants in the study who had previously smoked 15,000 packs of cigarettes.
Reason why Peter Campbell, one of the authors of the study and researcher of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, claims that it is never too late to abandon this habit:
“People who have smoked heavily for 30, 40 or more years often say to me that it’s too late to stop smoking – the damage is already done,” he said in a statement issued by the institute…What is so exciting about our study is that it shows that it’s never too late to quit…. Some of the people in the study had smoked more than 15,000 packs of cigarettes in their life. But within a few years of quitting, many of the cells lining their airways showed no evidence of damage from tobacco”, said Campbell.
There are some hypotheses as to why these new cells are so resistant: researchers think that their position is protecting them from mutations, being located in a sorto of “buker” area within the submucous glands.. They also speculate that they only expand after lung injury.
Thanks to these cells, the benefits are immediate for an ex-smoker and increase over time, regardless of age.
Their discovery is important because as it opens the possibility for the development of new cancer treatments, as confirmed by Professor Sam Janes of UCL, co-author of the study.
Opposite to what was previously believed, smoking is therefore reversible. Excellent news considering that lung cancer continues to claim many victims, about 8 million a year worldwidde, 80/90% of which caused by tobacco consumption.