Nicotine may hold promise for helping smokers avoid weight gain

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: September 20th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Many smokers say they don’t kick the habit because they’re afraid of gaining weight. Unfortunately, their fears are not always unfounded. Many smokers do pack on pounds after putting down the cigarettes. But scientists have recently made new discoveries about the relationship between nicotine and appetite that could offer hope to weight-conscious smokers.

Nicotine is a naturally occurring chemical that gives cigarettes their buzz. The body absorbs about one milligram of the substance when you smoke. It is toxic when consumed in larger doses. Some people believe nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant. And research does show that smokers tend to have a lower body-mass index than non-smokers.

For their study, researchers from Yale University and the Baylor School of Medicine investigated how nicotine works in the brains of mice to suppress their appetites. They found nicotine reduces feelings of hunger by latching to brain receptors that activate the neurons influencing your desire for chow.

Why is this important? By determining which nerves are affected by nicotine, it could help scientists develop a drug that can mimic nicotine’s ability to quell appetite.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the developed world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use kills 443,000 people and sickens almost 9 million more each year in the U.S.

Unfortunately, research performed on mice doesn’t immediately translate into drugs for humans. So a pill based on this science won’t be coming to a local pharmacy any time soon. But smokers shouldn’t bother waiting. Drop the habit now and keep weight down by staying active. Chew sugarless gum, carrots or celery sticks. There are many better — and safer — ways to keep off the pounds.