While we all know that smoking can be injurious to health, the findings of a new study suggest that it can be more harmful for men than it is for women by affecting the count of Y chromosomes in their blood cells. The reduction in the number of these chromosomes puts them at greater risk to some types of cancers than their female counterparts who do not carry any Y chromosomes. Men who smoke lose their Y chromosomes at much faster rate than those who do not as they grow older.
Scientists have known for a long time that men tend to lose the Y chromosome from some of their body cells as they grow age, but that was thought to be a part of the aging process and its correlation with smoking had not been established.
The findings of the new study which were published in the hugely popular journal Science now indicate that “older men who smoke typically lose more Y chromosomes from their blood cells than non-smokers do.”
Lars Forsberg, one of the researchers added, ‘We have previously in 2014 demonstrated an association between loss of the Y chromosome in blood and greater risk for cancer. We now tested if there were any lifestyle or clinical factors that could be linked to loss of the Y chromosome.”
While both men and women have two chromosomes, men have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome whereas women have two X chromosomes.
“The bottom two-thirds of the Y chromosome was seen as just repetitive DNA that doesn’t code for anything,” explained Dr. Martin Bialer, a medical geneticist at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.
“But now we’re starting to think it may have more roles than just determining sex — though that’s a pretty important one,” said Bialer, who was not involved in the study.
Lead researcher Prof. Jan Dumanski, of Uppsala University in Sweden explained, “Our results indicate that the Y chromosome has a role in tumor suppression, and they might explain why men get cancer more often than women.”
On the basis of this analysis, the researchers looking into this matter concluded that smoking was one of the leading causes for the loss of Y chromosomes in men while they age. The saving grace however is that the levels of this chromosome can be restored by giving up on smoking habits.