Toxic smoke

Toxic smoke

UF researchers uncover cigarette chemical’s effect on good cholesterol

By Matt Galnor

Cigarette smoking’s association with heart disease has been known for decades, but researchers are still not certain what chemicals or molecular processes in the body form the basis of that link. Now UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville researchers have unlocked some of the specifics, finding that a toxic compound in cigarette smoke called benzo(a)pyrene slows the production of “good” cholesterol, also known as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL.

The findings were published in the July edition of the journal Life Sciences.

“Smoking-related health hazards are well-recognized, and the role of smoking in promoting premature heart disease is widely appreciated,” said Arshag D. Mooradian, M.D., senior author of the study and a professor and chair of the department of medicine at the UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville. “The novelty in our study is the finding of yet another mechanism by which smoking can accelerate heart disease through reduction of the ‘good’ cholesterol that normally protects the heart.”

The findings can help inform public health policy aimed at reducing health risks associated with cigarette smoking. In addition, the implications could go beyond cigarette smoking, because the chemical benzo(a)pyrene, or BaP, that is found in cigarettes is also prevalent in wildfire smoke that periodically engulfs many parts of the country, including Florida.

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, contributing to more than one-third of deaths from heart disease annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.