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Study shows smokers who quit see improved artery health within year (JSOnline.Com)

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A large group of smokers from Wisconsin who quit had a significant improvement in the health of their arteries within a year of their last cigarette, equivalent to a 14% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Smoking has long been associated with the build-up of plaque in arteries, including those in the heart. One-third of premature smoking deaths are due to cardiovascular disease.

The study involved 1,500 smokers from Milwaukee and Madison, with a subject receiving ultrasound reading of an artery in the arm, to gauge flow-mediated dilation (the ability of the brachial artery to relax). The test is a proven predictor of heart disease risk. The test also measures the function of the active layer of endothelial cells that line the inside of arteries, which respond to a variety of stimuli, allowing vessels to contract or relax.

Those in the study who quit smoking had an improvement in flow-mediated dilation from 6.2% to 7.2%. An optimal number is closer to 10%, and continuing to abstain from smoking beyond one year likely would lead to more artery health improvement. In addition to improving their artery health, those who quit also had an average increase in HDL cholesterol (the good kind) of about three points.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, and the study’s findings were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and presented at the March 2010 annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology. Click here to read a newspaper article about the study. Click here for the abstract and the full study.