¿CUÁLES SON LOS BENEFICIOS POTENCIALES DE LA NICOTINA?
Nicotine is found in plants from the nightshade family - the most notable of which is the tobacco plant - as a natural pesticide. In humans, it acts as both a stimulant y sedative. It is highly addictive, and while it is one of the least harmful chemicals in the tobacco plant, it’s addictive nature - and association with smoking - paints it as quite the demon in today’s world.
Now that e-cigarettes have been around for a hot minute, we are better able to dissociate nicotine with tobacco, to assess the effects of nicotine away from all the carcinogens found in cigarettes. Public Health England maintains that using e-cigarettes is 95% less harmful than smoking tobacco! Further than this, some studies even show evidence that nicotine could be beneficial in a variety of other ways.
HISTORY AND HOW NICOTINE AFFECTS THE BODY
After ingesting nicotine the adrenal gland is stimulated, releasing adrenaline which leads to increased heart rate, breathing activity, a rise in blood pressure, and an immediate release of glucose. Nicotine suppresses insulin levels in the body, which results in an increased blood glucose level, potentially giving the same energy rush as sugary food. The release of dopamine - our brain’s own ‘reward’ chemical - also occurs, and this can encourage us to be active, as well as promoting feelings of content. Upon reaching the brain, nicotine triggers the release of various chemicals such as endorphins, which are renowned for creating feelings of euphoria.
Historically, tobacco cultivation has been with us since at least 5000 BC and was originally used as a panacea (cure-all) and had other medical purposes, as well as being chewed and smoked in pipes in ancient ceremonies. Perhaps it was the gift of tobacco from Native Americans to Christopher Columbus, and the passing of their understanding of the plant, that led to the misconception in Europe that it had magical healing properties.
It wasn’t until 1760 that Pierre Lorillard set up a company in the United States to process tobacco into cigars and snuff - dry snuff was inhaled, whereas moist snuff was placed in the mouth between lip and gum. It would be another 140 years before the cigarette was sold as a major tobacco product.
Over the course of the 20th century, the negative effects of smoking would be laid bare, and governments would begin regulation of the production and sale of cigarettes. As tobacco products contain nicotine, and the ways of consuming tobacco products have links to health problems, nicotine has inherited all the negative connotations of tobacco while only being a single chemical found among many found in the plant. Understanding and isolating this has helped develop NRT - ‘nicotine replacement therapy’ - as a means for quitting smoking. These methods include nicotine patches that release nicotine over time that is absorbed by the skin, and nicotine gum and lozenges that deliver nicotine that is absorbed in the mouth.
POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF NICOTINE
NICOTINE CAN ENHANCE MOOD AND WAKEFULNESS
To determine the effect of nicotine on continuous attention, working memory and computational processing, a study composed of tobacco deprived and non-deprived smokers was carried out. They used 28 smokers in a double-blind, placebo controlled, within-subject (all participants take part in every condition) study where the subjects were tobacco deprived overnight for 12 hours at one session and smoked as much as desired before the other. Each participant was treated with nicotine in the form of a nasal spray at 90 minute intervals at a strength of 0mg, 1mg and 2mg in random order. Before and after each dose, blood samples were taken and a variety of tests applied.
In the session with overnight tobacco deprivation, subjects performed worse on the cognitive tests, and reported cravings and bad mood - but nicotine normalised these shortfalls. In the session without the tobacco deprivation, participants performed better on the continuous performance test (CPT) and an arithmetic test relative to the nicotine dose, but the nicotine didn’t impact working memory. As this study was carried out entirely with smokers, *the results* speak to how nicotine affects those who are already regularly consuming nicotine.
NICOTINE CAN HELP CONCENTRATION AND SHORT TERM MEMORY
Using new neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to accurately establish the area’s of the brain in which nicotine is active. An fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study to determine the effects of nicotine administered intravenously in 16 active cigarette smokers used injections of saline solution, followed by injections of three doses of nicotine (0.75mg, 1.5mg and 2.25mg per 70 kilograms of body mass) administered over 1 minute periods in ascending doses, with brain images being taken every 6 seconds.
Esta historia de estudio anterior showed nicotine ‘induced a dose-dependant increase in neuronal activity in a distributed system of brain regions, including the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, cingulate and frontal lobes.’ The nucleus accumbens plays a large role in the reward system of the brain; the amygdala deals with emotional memory; the cingulate is also involved in processing emotions and behaviour regulation; while the frontal lobe is responsible for higher cognitive functions including memory, emotions, impulse control, problem solving, social interaction and motor function.
Otro estudio assessed the effect of transdermal nicotine therapy (patches) on subjects with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) for 6 months, all non-smokers. Sixty seven subjects completed the study, and were assessed using Connors Continuous Performance test and showed significant nicotine induced improvement in cognition. The secondary means of assessment included computerised cognitive testing and patient and observer ratings - and these tests showed nicotine-associated improvements in attention, memory and psychomotor speed.
Another study published in January 2013 demonstrated the effects of nicotine on Prospective Memory - which is remembering to carry out a task at a given point in time - in smokers. Comparing 18mg with placebo delivered via an e-cigarette, prospective memory was measured using the Cambridge Prospective Memory Test, and the results showed a marginally significant relationship between prospective memory performance and nicotine.
NICOTINE CAN HELP WITH ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
An interesting study looked at 40 smokers compared to 40 non-smokers, in which the participants watched a stress-inducing film. Those who smoked the higher nicotine cigarettes experienced reductions in anxiety and right hemisphere activation in the brain, increased heart rate, and more balanced activation of the left hemisphere (in relation to the right hemisphere). This is significant as another study found that in depressed subjects the *right hemisphere showed greater frontal activation when compared with non-depressed subjects*. This suggests that the anxiety relieving effects of smoking are possibly mediated by the right side of the brain.
Additionally, the localisation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors to dopamine cell bodies in the ventral tegmental area of the brain - a brain region with control over prefrontal activity - indicates another possible mechanism that nicotine influences our cognitive processes.
NICOTINE CAN HELP NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS
A study by Cornelia M van Duijin and Albert Hofman examined the smoking habits before the onset of dementia in patients with Alzheimer’s disease - a common neurodegenerative disorder that is characterised by impairment of learning and memory - and a control group without Alzheimer’s. By measuring a smoker’s consumption of cigarettes in a unit called pack years (the number of cigarettes smoked per day in packs multiplied by the duration of cigarette use in years) and classifying the subjects with regard to their smoking status and familial disease risk, they were able to observe a *strong inverse relation between smoking and Alzheimer’s disease*.
Nicotine also shows promise as a treatment for other neurological disorders. As nicotine is a stimulant, it may explain why many people with ADHD smoke, as nicotine may act similarly to the stimulant medications prescribed for ADHD.
It is believed that a reduction in activity in the frontal and prefrontal areas of the brain (Hypofrontality) causes the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Sufferers of schizophrenia have high instances of smoking as it improves the processing of sounds by patients, and may reduce negative symptoms by increasing dopamine presence in the cognition centres of the brain, such as the frontal cortex.
NICOTINE IS HAVING POSITIVE IMPACT ON PARKINSON’S DISEASE
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder - meaning it causes the loss of the structure or function of neurons (nerve cells) - that causes damage to the dopamine producing nerve cells in a part of the brain called the ‘substantia nigra’. Parkinson’s results in movement issues such as tremors, bradykinesia (slow movement), rigidity (tightness or stiffness in the limbs more significant than aging or arthritis would cause), and postural instability. Epidemiological studies show a correlation between smoking and lower instances of Parkinson’s disease; it is suggested that because nicotine decreases activation of immune cells in the central nervous system called ‘microglia’, less inflammatory chemicals like TNF - Tumour Necrosis Factor - are released. These inflammatory chemicals create a hostile environment for foreign objects, but sometimes this can cause damage to healthy tissue.
Currently it is supposed that nicotine interacts with the many types of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, which activates signals from the cell membrane to sites inside the cell. These signals cause changes in the immune response, and trophic factors (friendly molecules that help maintain neurons and their connections). These changes have a positive, protective effect and suggest that nicotine, and other drugs that activate these nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, may be used as therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
NICOTINE USE BY ATHLETES
From an athletic point of view, nicotine has some utility - as mentioned before, Nicotine suppresses the insulin levels in the body which leads to a higher blood glucose level, which in turn means more energy is available to be delivered where it is required. Nicotine acting as a stimulant will also see an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, allowing the body to deliver nutrients and energy to the muscles faster - though these effects normalise as the body develops tolerance to nicotine. Long term use in athletes is not great however, as nicotine and smoking has been shown to have a negative impact on the muscular tissue of the heart.
NICOTINE HAS BEEN FOUND TO AID IN WEIGHT LOSS
Nicotine increases energy expenditure and also suppresses the appetite by inhibiting the body’s expectation of food to compensate for energy spent. The regulation of our eating behaviour occurs in the hypothalamus, where signals tell it how much food has been taken in and relates it to the amount of fatty tissue we possess. The hormone Leptin is released from the fat cells, in proportion to the amount of fat cells, and suppresses food intake while increasing metabolic rate. While some studies show conflicting results, it has been suggested that nicotine may increase the effectiveness of Leptin in the brain.
This is not permission to start (or to carry on) smoking in order to lose weight! Smoking tobacco will increase the risk of issues including heart disease and lung cancer.
NICOTINE REPLACEMENT THERAPY (NRT)
One of the challenges of addressing nicotine’s effect on the body is that it is usually ingested by smoking tobacco. Using nicotine replacement therapy delivers nicotine to the body without the harmful effects of the tar, carcinogens and other chemicals you take in when you smoke cigarettes. NRT comes in a few forms, including oral tablets, patches and nasal spray for example. For anyone with a nicotine addiction, these are much safer ways of getting your nicotine - the only problem is that nicotine uptake is much greater when you smoke. Using NRT in combination with an e-cigarette or other vape units may be a great way of getting a satisfying nicotine hit. When it comes to quitting smoking, e-cigarettes are nearly twice as effective as NRT when both methods are accompanied by behavioural support.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF NICOTINE - CONCLUSION
Assessing the health benefits of nicotine is challenging due to the association with smoking. It is clear that, in smokers, nicotine eliminates the withdrawal symptoms and therefore allows better cognition. Is nicotine addictive? Yes. The answer to why this is the case may be because nicotine activates parts of our brain that regulate and control much of our life experience, and withdrawal from this activation tends to have a negative impact. As the technology for electronic cigarettes and vape units improves, we are seeing larger amounts of nicotine uptake into the body, getting closer to the levels experienced from smoking. This may contribute to why e-cigarettes appear to be getting better results for quitting smoking than many options for nicotine replacement therapy.
Whether you use nicotine to help your concentration, to help manage a disorder, or to quit smoking, using new methods like Nicotine Replacement Therapy and e-cigarettes are a much healthier way of taking your nicotine, better than dealing with smoking and it’s harmful side effects! Give SMOKO a call today and make the switch or try one of our popular e-cigarette or vape starter kit bundles!