Can nicotine, that addictive chemical found in tobacco and e-cigarettes, help your aging brain?
Researchers at Texas A&M found that, when given independently from tobacco, the maligned chemical helps protect the aging brain and may even hold off Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Apparently nicotine’s protective abilities may have something to do with its power to suppress appetite, according to Ursula Winzer-Serhan, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. The study was published in the Open Access Journal of Toxicology.
This information coincides with previous research that has shown nicotine’s possible cognitive benefits by binding and activating certain receptors in the brain. These receptors, in turn, have been found to reduce neurodegeneration.
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For their study, the Texas A&M researchers added nicotine to the lab mice’s drinking water. The mice were divided into four groups: those who received no nicotine and those who received low, medium and high concentrations of nicotine.
The low- and medium-dosed mice showed no changes in food intake, body weight or number of receptors in the brain where nicotine acts. There was also no trace of nicotine in their blood.
However, the high-dosed group ate less, gained less weight and had more receptors, leading the researchers to conclude that the drug gets into the brain and impacts behavior at higher doses. What’s more, the high-dosed animals didn’t have the suspected behavioral side effects, such as anxiety.
“The last thing you would want in a drug that is given chronically would be a negative change in behavior,” Winzer-Serhan said in a statement. “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.”
A lot more research needs to be done, primarily testing nicotine’s possible anti-aging qualities on actual aged animals. And researchers say larger clinical trials need to be conducted as well.
“I want to make it very clear that we’re not encouraging people to smoke,” Winzer-Serhan said. “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.”