The chemicals in thirdhand smoke can affect the normal function of many parts of our body. Researchers at Nantong University’s Institute of Reproductive Medicine reviewed existing thirdhand smoke research to summarize the effects of thirdhand smoke chemicals on our livers, lungs, brains, and our immune and reproductive systems.
By Leta Dickinson
October 13, 2021
The liver is the jack of all trades in the body: It filters the blood, aids in digestion, creates essential nutrients, and more. Thirdhand smoke chemicals disrupt the normal functioning of the liver by causing the organ to hold onto larger fat particles. A study in mice found that the fat particles were as much as 2.5 times bigger than fat particles in unexposed mice. This is a preliminary symptom of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to more serious liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and even the development of type 2 diabetes.
The lungs are a key organ in the respiratory system, which controls the movement of oxygen into our blood and removal of carbon dioxide. The exposure of lung cells to thirdhand smoke is harmful to DNA function. Studies have found that these chemicals reduce lung function. People exposed to thirdhand smoke have an increased risk of cancer and more severe asthma and other respiratory diseases (like COVID-19).
The brain is particularly susceptible to negative health effects during development. Some preliminary studies have linked thirdhand smoke chemicals to neurodevelopmental disorders like attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and smaller brain volumes.
The immune system comprises of cells and proteins that protect our bodies from infection. Studies of thirdhand smoke exposure in mice have observed that exposed mice have reduced numbers of defensive cells than unexposed mice, an effect found to last until adulthood even if the exposure to thirdhand smoke occurred when the mice were young.
Studies are only beginning to uncover the harmful effects of thirdhand smoke chemicals on the reproductive system, the organs involved in producing offspring. In female reproductive systems, research indicates that thirdhand smoke chemicals are linked to genotoxicity in the formation of the ovum. Genotoxicity is the process by which chemicals cause mutations that can lead to cancer. The toxic chemicals in thirdhand smoke disrupt multiple steps in cell reproduction, causing issues in the new cells. This can lead to infertility and ovarian cancer. Additionally, these chemicals can destroy ovarian follicles, leading to infertility even prior to menopause. Babies exposed to thirdhand smoke in the womb are also affected. One study found that pregnant mice exposed to tobacco smoke had offspring with lower birth weights and reduced kidney function. The researchers speculate that the mice pups were not only exposed to thirdhand smoke during the pregnancy, but also that the chemicals may inhibit breast milk secretion, leading to slower growth and development after birth as well.
Nicotine and other thirdhand smoke chemicals have been found to reduce the quality of semen. The chemicals disrupt sperm maturation processes and can even lead to these cells prematurely dying.
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