Last updated: Jul 30, 2008
vikram-seshadri
Acupuncture and a new attitude toward nutrition helped Vikram quit smoking.
(VIKRAM SESHADRI)
Vikram Seshadri knew that smoking wasnt good for his health, and he knew that he had been sick a lot in the 12 years since picking up the habit as a teenager. He suffered from frequent colds, flus, and coughs. "I always thought there was a direct connection between getting sick often and smoking as much as I did," confesses Seshadri. But not even his strong suspicions were enough to make him quit.


Seshadri hated cigarettes as a child growing up with a smoking father. "My mother, brother, and I just found it so disgusting," he says. Yet, in 1994 he found himself lighting up his own first cigarette. Soon he was up to more than a pack a day. He tried to quit three times—once using the nicotine patch and the other two times going cold turkey—but it never quite stuck.

Ultimately, it was a bad bout with the flu in the winter of 2007 that put him over the edge. Seshadri, who works with a public relations firm in Los Angeles, smoked right through his illness. But a mere month after the end of the flu, he started getting flu-like symptoms again and decided he had had enough. "I just sat there and thought, 'This is ridiculous.'" He finally put the pieces together: Smoking was literally making him sick.


Yes, smoking makes you sick
People associate smoking primarily with lung cancer. But nicotine affects everything from your blood vessels to your hormones and your brain. And smoking itself suppresses the immune system so that you are less able to fight off illness; a 1995 study at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale showed that smokers who quit for just 31 days improved their immune function.

This isnt always the case. Sourpik Avakian, MD, a family practitioner in Beverly Hills who is Seshadris doctor, says that about 20% of her patients actually get sick more frequently after quitting, with increased coughing and susceptibility to upper respiratory infections—at least for the first few months.

Luckily, Seshadri was not one of those people; he felt better right away. He was more energetic, less moody—and spending less time lying on the couch with sniffles or the flu. Hes only gotten sick once since quitting, and when he did, he recovered quickly. "Before, Id be sick for a week or two and the phlegm would linger in my lungs," he says. "Now in 48 hours Im back to normal."

An acupuncturist helped Seshadri with the first two months of withdrawal symptoms. He also began running every morning and cut down on his drinking; he started eating more unprocessed foods, looking closely at labels, and cooking more at home. "It sort of spawned this whole lifestyle change," he says.

Mentally, he was "done"
Seshadri believes his ability to finally kick the smoking habit had as much to do with his attitude as it did with the acupuncture and all the healthy changes he made. "Mentally, I was done," he says. "It was symbolic for me in turning my life around, treating my body like a temple instead of a garbage can."

Dr. Avakian affirms this theory. She has found mental readiness to be key, not just for Seshadri, but for other patients too. "Just like with weight loss," she says, "no medications or programs will work unless youve made the decision that you want to help yourself."