Just weeks after quitting smoking, women show major reductions in several markers of inflammation associated with heart disease risk, new research shows.

The findings point the way to a strategy for encouraging people at risk of heart disease to kick the habit, the study's authors say.

Smoking is known to promote inflammation, while quitting cuts the risk of developing and dying from heart and lung disease, Dr. Christine N. Metz of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York, and her colleagues write in the medical journal Chest. However, it's unknown whether benefits are seen immediately after a person quits.

To investigate, they performed blood tests for several markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and other substances, in 36 women participating in a smoking cessation program. The women were tested four times over 6 to 7 weeks.

Levels of TNF and two related substances fell steadily through the course of the study, the researchers found. Levels of CRP and interleukin-6 also fell.

Informing people about the age and health of their lungs is known to help encourage them to quit smoking, Metz and her team note, and using markers of inflammation like those measured in the current study could provide similar information on cardiovascular health.

Quantifiable information reflecting cardiovascular health may act as positive reinforcement for those trying to quit and remain smoke free, they add.

We propose the identification of a panel of inflammatory biomarkers that could be used as measurable milestones for persons quitting smoking in a smoking cessation program focused on improving cardiovascular health for smokers who are at risk, they conclude.

SOURCE: Chest, July 2009.