For many, nicotine has an infamous reputation. Everyone knows it’s the addictive drug within cigarettes that makes them extremely hard to quit. For this reason, nicotine’s standing has become associated with the fact that smoking kills. However, it’s not nicotine that does the damage – it’s actually the tar and the countless carcinogens that are produced when tobacco burns.
In actual fact, research now shows that nicotine is no more harmful for you than an average cup of coffee. But what will probably be more surprising to you is the fact that nicotine actually possesses a whole host of health benefits. Yes, you read that correctly – nicotine can be good for you! So read on and discover the evidence that backs up this surprising claim.
Nicotine is good for the brain
Image by Allan Ajifo
Nicotine works by triggering receptors in the brain, which regulate the release of chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Consequently, it is possible to use nicotine to treat some problems with cognitive function.
Although the health benefits of nicotine might come as a revelation, the first scientific studies looking into this subject were carried out decades ago.
In 1966, Harold Kahn, an epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health, published a study that included some interesting findings. Using health insurance data on nearly 300,000 veterans who served in the U.S. army between 1917 and 1940, Khan sought to find links between smoking and people’s health.
Unsurprisingly, he found a causal link between smoking and diseases such as cancer and emphysema. However, he also noticed the non-smokers in the pool of data he was studying were three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than the smokers.
His conclusion: nicotine reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Of course, it’s easy to pass these findings off as an anomaly. Yet there have been many more studies since that have drawn a similar conclusion. For example, this 2012 study by Maryka Quik successfully used nicotine to treat monkeys with Parkinson’s disease.
So, why is nicotine good for Parkinson’s?
Image by Ilya
Through study, it has become apparent that nicotine increases the level of dopamine that your brain produces.
For those that don’t know, dopamine is a neurotransmitter and one of the chemicals that is responsible for transmitting signals that help boost attention and reward-seeking behaviours such as gambling and drug addiction.
However, dopamine also helps control movement. And this is crucial in relation to Parkinson’s – a disease that is characterised by shaking and difficulty with coordinating movement.
In the brain, the striatum regulates and controls movement, and it is located next to the terminal that emits dopamine. Even in small doses, nicotine increases the level of dopamine in the brain, which, in turn, helps to eliminate uncontrolled movements that are typical of Parkinson’s.
It’s all about the dopamine
Image from Pixabay
In addition to Parkinson’s, by increasing the level of dopamine in the brain, nicotine can help treat several other cognitive impairments – including depression and schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health disorder that causes hallucinations, delusions and altered behaviour in suffers. Statistically, those who suffer with the condition are far more likely to be addicted to nicotine.
Several studies – including this one published by Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews – suggests that dopamine improves cognitive functions related to memory and attention. As a result, nicotine can help to reduce the severity of schizophrenia’s most negative symptoms.
This article, meanwhile, outlines a study where nicotine was used in a similar fashion to treat depression sufferers. The study found that subjects who wore a nicotine patch for at least eight days experienced a significant decline in symptoms of depression.
Again, the study links this to the subjects’ increased production of dopamine, which also helps the brain regulate mood.
Image by Runran
This study published in Neurology – one of the most widely read and highly-cited peer-reviewed journals in its field – suggests that nicotine can also help improve memory loss.
The controlled trial included a study of 74 non-smokers with a range of mild cognitive impairments (MCI). The scientists gave 39 people in the trial a nicotine patch daily. The remaining 35 people were given a placebo drug. The subjects did not know whether they were given a genuine nicotine patch or a placebo.
The subjects that received the nicotine patches found that their long-term memory returned to around 46% of its former capacity. On the other hand, those who were given a placebo, experienced a 26% decline in their long-term memory capabilities over the course of six months.
For this reason, many scientists believe nicotine could form the basis for a drug that helps to treat Alzheimer’s sometime in the near future.
Nicotine is good for the brain and the body
Besides the brain benefits outlined above, nicotine also possesses qualities that can help treat conditions that affect the rest of the body.
One such condition is ulcerative colitis. Similar to Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that is more common in non-smokers and ex-smokers. For this reason, some scientists believe the anti-inflammatory properties of nicotine can help to fight the disease.
For instance, this paper, published by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, provides details of a clinical study where 16 patients suffering with left-sided colitis were administered nicotine patches in addition to their regular treatments. In the vast majority of cases, the patients reported significant improvements in their condition over the course of the study.
Nicotine can help fight obesity
Image by Tony Alter
One of the most commonly observed side-effects of quitting smoking is putting on weight. For some smokers, this puts them off the idea of quitting – despite the obvious health benefits.
Now there is scientific proof that nicotine has appetite-suppressing properties. This post, published by ABC science, provides details of a study where researchers fed mice nicotine daily for a month. As a result of being given nicotine daily, the mice reduced their food intake by as much as 50%.
What’s more, the overall body fat of the mice also reduced by 15 to 20%. A statistic that correlates with the fact that, on average, smokers are close to half a stone lighter than non-smokers.
Of course, taking up smoking to lose weight is not a good idea. But if you do smoke and you are worried that you will put on weight if you quit, a safe nicotine replacement treatment can help soothe those fears.
Nicotine can help fight the onset of arthritis
Image by Michael Dorausch
Do you remember when we were talking about the anti-inflammatory properties of nicotine? Well, this may also help prevent inflammation of the joints, which is one of the major causes of arthritis.
This recent study, which involved 11,000 elderly Australian men, discovered people who smoked were 51% less likely to need surgery for replacement hips and knees.
Once weight and other factors had also been taken into account, the study concluded that nicotine stimulated the cells found in joint cartilage and helped to reduce the severity of arthritis.
There are many possible health benefits that nicotine possesses. However, if you don’t currently use nicotine, this isn’t an excuse to start. Nicotine is still a stimulant and, therefore, has several adverse effects like increasing your heart rate.
Having said that, if you are a current smoker, the benefits of nicotine outlined in this blog should not be ignored. This is because they provide one of the best reasons yet to start using a safer form of nicotine delivery – such as electronic cigarettes.
As one of the oldest electronic cigarette companies in the UK, our aim is to help make your switch from smoking to using e-cigs as simple as possible. That’s why our electronic cigarette starter kits include everything you’ll need to get started – including an e-cig, charger, case and refill cartridges.
If you want to swap traditional cigarettes for a healthier hit of nicotine, grab an iCig Electronic Cigarette Starter Kit today.
Alternatively, if you want more information about the benefits of e-cigarettes, check out our guide: To Vape or Not To Vape? Investigating the Benefits of Electronic Cigarettes