Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Hookah: Health Risk or Not?

Moroccan Jew enjoying a hookah

The hookah or nargilah has been around for over 500 years and originated in India and Persia. The hookah has become a common sight throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It is a very popular cultural vice that is seen throughout Israel in both Jewish and Arab populations. In the last few years it has become a popular smoking choice among Americans and there are a variety of shapes, styles, colors and flavors of shisha (flavored tobacco) that can be purchased and enjoyed.

The hookah's are popular among Jews as it was brought into the general Jewish consciousness by Mizrahim and Sephardim such as the Yemenite Jews and Jews from Iran (modern Persia).
Samaritans sharing a hookah
With the growing popularity of the hookah various misinformed ideals have been presented concerning its safety or lack thereof.  There are many so-called "facts" regarding the hookah's effects on health but all of these facts are not based on legitimate scientific inquiry as no real studies have been done to date. There are however obvious health risks associated with any form of smoking. The inhalation of smoke carries toxic metals into the lungs and these are known to be carcinogenic. Further, smoke inhalation depletes oxygen in the bloodstream by introducing carbon monoxide into the body. All being said it is obvious that smoking of any substance has known health risks. 
On the flip side, the shisha smoked from a hookah is a much less toxic than cigarettes as a cigarette contains a number of chemical additives that the shisha of a hookah does not have. Further the tobacco of a cigarette produces tar when burned and since the shisha of a hookah is not burned there isn't an associated risk of tar inhalation.
There are also health benefits to smoking tobacco as well. Tobacco is an herb an has proven medicinal qualities whenever smoked. Here are just a few studies which have demonstrated the positive side of smoking:
*  According to an article published in 1995 in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviewsnicotine found in smoke inhalation reduces psychiatric, cognitive, sensory, and physical effects of schizophrenia, and also provides relief of common side effects from anti-psychotic drugs. 
* A series of very interesting studies from multiple academic sources confirms that the risk of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease is surprisingly higher in non-smokers than in smokers. Doctor Laura Fratiglioni of Huddinge University Hospital in Sweden states, "Smokers are 50% less likely to have PD or AD than are age and gender-matched nonsmokers [...] cigarette smoking exerts an undefined, biologic, neuroprotective influence against the development of PD and AD." 
* The University of Melbourne confirmed the claims made by many smokers that tobacco itself is a strong appetite suppressant, and many use it to self-treat compulsive overeating disorders or obesity.
* Smoking has also been linked to a decrease in risk of certain inflammatory disorders, since nicotine itself appears to be an anti-inflammatory agent. The department of gastroenterology at the University Hospital of Wales conducted a number of in-vitro studies to confirm and explain the decreased risk in ulcerative colitis (a potentially severe digestive disorder) in individuals who smoke.
* Tobacco smoke's anti-inflammatory effects may actually provide some benefits to children who are exposed to secondhand smoke. While this is certainly not worth at-home experimentation, one astonishing study conducted in Sweden observed two generations of Swedish children and found that the children of smokers had lower rates of allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma, atopic eczema, and food allergies. The studied groups included 6909 adults and 4472 children, and the findings remained consistent, even when adjusted to reflect other variables.
* A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that preeclampsia, an extremely common but potentially deadly condition, is significantly less common in expectant mothers who smoke cigarettes than in expectant mothers who do not smoke. 
Yemenite Jews with a hookah during a meal
There is obviously a downside to smoking but there are also benefits that are obscured by the media and other interested parties who have their own agendas. The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to smoking your hookah is simply "moderation."  Too much of anything is not a good thing. The hookah is a pleasant experience and a part of our heritage.  There is great pleasure to be derived from smoking the hookah while studying the secrets of the Zohar with a group of friends.

Yemenite Jews with hookah

If you are interested in hookah merchandise then you may wish to try: