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Nicotine Shows Promise as Weight Control Method

Posted on Jun 10, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

For many years it has been common knowledge that smoking is an extremely harmful habit, with smokers presenting an increased risk for a host of medical conditions including Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, and infertility, to name but a few. However, a recent study published in Science has highlighted a potential positive effect in Nicotine, a key chemical contained in tobacco products. It has long been known that smoking suppresses appetite, and that individuals who quit smoking are prone to significant weight gain. The research presented in Science has shown exactly why smoking, and consequently nicotine, is able to control hunger urges. This has lead the researchers involved in the study to become hopeful about some potential future uses of the Nicotine compound, and are also hoping to use the study in order to help individuals attempting to quit tobacco products control their weight after they have ceased smoking. So how does this process of weight control actually work? The easy version is that the human brain has a large number of nicotine receptors, spread throughout the tissue. While not all nicotine receptors have an impact on hunger researchers found that the ?3?4 nicotinic receptor, located in the hypothalamus, suppresses an individual's appetite when activated by nicotine. The news of nicotine's ability to influence weight gain follows a study published in Science Daily during May 2010 which found that smokers have a decreased risk of developing Parkinson's disease, a serious degenerative condition of the central nervous system. In this study researchers found that active smokers, who had smoked for more than 40 years, were up to 46 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's disease than people who had never smoked. Individuals who had smoked for between 30 - 39 years were 35 percent less likely to develop the condition than their non smoking counterparts, while persons who had smoked between 1 and 9 years had reduced their risk of developing Parkinson's by 8 percent. However, researches noted that the decreased risk of developing Parkinson's disease was due to the length of time that an individual had smoked, and that the risk did not change based on the number of cigarettes that were smoked in a single day. The study also noted that in the event that an individual had already developed Parkinson's symptoms smoking would not retard the progression of the disease, and that treating Parkinson's with nicotine was not a viable option. Chemicals in the Tobacco plant are coming under more scrutiny as global health initiatives to encourage people to give up smoking become more prevalent. However, with the news that there are some potentially beneficial effects of this incredibly harmful activity it can be expected that scientists will continue to build on their knowledge of this substance. One projected line of inquiry into the new knowledge of the nicotine compound is as a weight loss aid for individuals suffering from chronic obesity. Obesity is a rapidly growing issue in many developed nations, especially the USA, and a non-invasive method of controlling appetite outside of drastic stomach surgery or a complete overhaul in lifestyle choices could be a welcome sight for many individuals around the world. However, there are some key concerns with using nicotine as a form of medical treatment, not in the least is that the substance is highly addictive and that most forms of tobacco use carry the previously mentioned, severe health risks. Using a pure form nicotine pill of some type, nicotine gum, or even the patch could be possible treatment methods but researchers have yet to come to a full understanding of how these options will impact conditions like obesity. Additionally this could cause a range of issues with regards to medical insurance and life insurance coverage. Smokers and tobacco users will typically receive higher premiums than non-smokers when obtaining health insurance in many parts of the world. In fact, many life insurance policies will check for the presence of Cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine found in the blood of smokers, and impose higher premiums on those who test positive for the molecule.  If scientists and doctors find a way to use nicotine as a legitimate treatment option for conditions such as obesity and Parkinson's disease then a simple test to check for the presence of Cotinine may not be sufficient to calculate the risk presented by a specific individual. However, any development in this direction will be at least a few years off, giving insurers around the world time to prepare for new forms of treatment.
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