Thirdhand Smoke Chemicals May Increase Diabetes Risk

Not only does smoking damage your pancreas, but new evidence from an Indonesian research team at the Medical Biology Laboratory of Bandung Islamic University found that thirdhand smoke exposure can inflict similar harm. The study found that mice exposed to thirdhand smoke for four weeks had smaller and fewer pancreatic cells than unexposed mice, suggesting that thirdhand smoke exposure in humans could lead to long-term pancreatic damage, including increased risk of diabetes.

Leta Dickinson

May 18, 2022

Surprise, surprise: The pancreas is the latest organ to join the list of body parts vulnerable to thirdhand smoke exposure. In recent years, scientists have discovered that thirdhand smoke exposure is linked to DNA damage, skin cancer, lung inflammation, increased liver fat, and reduced pancreatic function. 

Researchers at the Medical Biology Laboratory of the Bandung Islamic University found that thirdhand smoke chemicals can accumulate in the pancreas and negatively affect its function. They compared the pancreatic cells of mice exposed to thirdhand smoke for four weeks to unexposed mice, and discovered the exposed mice had smaller and fewer pancreatic cells than their unexposed counterparts. These results suggest that thirdhand smoke exposure in humans could lead to long-term pancreatic damage, which could ultimately increase the risk of diabetes 

When people come in contact with exposed surfaces or otherwise ingest or inhale thirdhand smoke, chemicals from the smoke enter our bodies and accumulate in various organs. These chemicals, including nicotine and heavy metals, can cause cancer, react with existing substances in our body, and interfere with normal body functions. 

While there is evidence that smoking damages the pancreas, little was known about how thirdhand smoke might affect this organ until this study. The pancreas is an important gland in our body that controls blood sugar levels. More specifically, groups of pancreatic cells called islets of Langerhans produce hormones that balance our blood sugar levels to keep our bodies fueled and stable. 

The researchers sought to better understand how thirdhand smoke might affect the pancreas by modeling exposure in mice. Mice were separated into two groups; one group was exposed to thirdhand smoke daily, and the other group was not. Four weeks later, the researchers measured the number and size of islets of Langerhans in each group of mice to see how even a short period of regular thirdhand smoke exposure might change the composition, structure, and function of the pancreas. 

The pancreases of exposed mice displayed clear damage from thirdhand smoke chemicals. The islets of Langerhans were

smaller, fewer in number, and had less-tightly bundled cells. This damage means the exposed mice were less able to control their blood sugar levels and have a higher risk of developing diabetes. 

While the research did not indicate a clear mechanism for how thirdhand smoke was affecting pancreatic function, there are several possible pathways. It is possible that chemicals in the smoke damage cells, possibly to the point of apoptosis, or cell death. In addition, thirdhand smoke contains cadmium (a heavy metal) and nicotine, both of which may interfere with blood sugar control. 

This study provides the latest piece of evidence that tobacco smoke is harmful even in the form of thirdhand smoke. Though the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, the science is clear: Thirdhand smoke contains toxic chemicals that are damaging our health. 

Click here to read the research study.

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