Nicotine could help protect the brain as it ages and ward off neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, according to a new research.
Lead researcher, Ursula Winzer-Serhan, PhD, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, and her collaborators found that nicotine's ability to be neuroprotective may be partly due to its well-known ability to suppress the appetite.
‘Nicotine’s ability to be neuroprotective may be partly due to its well-known ability to suppress the appetite.’
The researchers used animal model for the study. They added nicotine to the animal's drinking water and gave it to three different groups at three different concentrations (low, medium and high). The control group did not receive any nicotine.
The groups that received low and medium doses of nicotine did not show any levels of drug in the blood and they experienced no changes in food intake, body weight, or number of receptors in the brain where nicotine acts. However, the group that received highest concentration of nicotine ate less, gained less weight and had more receptors. At higher doses, nicotine gets int the brain where it can impact behavior. Higher doses did not show worrying behavioral side effects like making individuals anxious.
"Some people say that nicotine decreases anxiety, which is why people smoke, but others say it increases anxiety," Winzer-Serhan said. "The last thing you would want in a drug that is given chronically would be a negative change in behavior. Luckily, we didn't find any evidence of anxiety: Only two measures showed any effect even with high levels of nicotine, and if anything, nicotine made animal models less anxious."
The researchers hope to conduct further studies on nicotine's potential anti-aging effects using aged animal models. It is also unclear if nicotine's effects are related only to its ability to suppress appetite, or if there are more mechanisms at work.
Winzer-Serhan cautioned that "I want to make it very clear that we're not encouraging people to smoke. Even if these weren't very preliminary results, smoking results in so many health problems that any possible benefit of the nicotine would be more than canceled out. However, smoking is only one possible route of administration of the drug, and our work shows that we shouldn't write-off nicotine completely."
Still, Winzer-Serhan cautions people not to purchase nicotine-containing products just yet. "Although the results are intriguing, we would need large-scale clinical trials before suggesting anyone change their behavior," she said. "At the end of the day, we haven't proven that this addictive drug is safe—and it certainly isn't during childhood or adolescence—or that the benefits outweigh the potential risks."
The study is published in the Open Access Journal of Toxicology.