- research suggests long term nicotine inhalation causes you no harm
- use of nicotine could help you lose weight
- tobacco has been used throughout history to control appetite
One problem with electronic cigarettes is that while short term studies have been carried out, there haven’t been any very long term studies.
Scientists tell us that the problem with smoking is not the nicotine, it’s the smoke produced when you burn tobacco (or anything else for that matter). But it still helps if there are studies to back that up.
Which is why I was intrigued to run across a 1996 study on the long term effects of inhaling nicotine.
Long Term Effects of Inhaled Nicotine
Waldum et al put rats in a chamber and pumped nicotine in for 20 hours a day, 5 days a week for two years.
They concluded that:
- there was no increase in tumours
- no increase in the death rate
However, the rats did lose weight.
The study lead the researchers to conclude:
our study does not indicate any harmful effect of nicotine when given in its pure form by inhalation.
How does it work? Researcher Marina Piccotio found that nicotine activates a path in the brain that suppresses appetite. His findings are now being used by scientists to try and develop new medicines to help people lose weight.
Rats and Humans
Anti-nicotine activists will be keen to point out that rats are not humans. (Although they probably wouldn’t point this out if the results were negative!)
But there is a reason tests are carried out on rats.
Intriguingly, rats suffer from the same diseases as us, and have:
- the same physiology
- similar organs
- similar body plans
- body chemistry that work in similar ways
- nervous systems that work in the same way
- react in similar ways to injury and infection
As rats don’t live as long as us, we also don’t have to wait decades to see effects on their health.
While a scientist would probably prefer to see the results of tests carried out on humans, I can’t see countries outside North Korea placing a person in a chamber for 20 years and pumping in nicotine for 20 hours a day!
Nicotine and Hunger in History
It’s a habit of scientists that they like to tell us what we already know 🙂
And one of the findings of the study – that nicotine helps us lose weight – is nothing knew.
Although Christoper Columbus was angry when his crew started smoking tobacco, it took him just days to work out that tobacco could relieve hunger and aid relaxation.
And Monardes came to same conclusion in 1571 in his History of Medicinal Plants in the New World, arguing that tobacco had the ability to alleviate hunger pangs as well as thirst.
(Mind you, Monardes was rather fond of tobacco, writing that:
To seek to tell the virtues and greatness of this holy herb, the ailments which can be cured of it, the evils from which it has saved thousands would be to go on to infinity… this precious herb is so general a need not only for the sick but for the healthy)
But he’s not the only one to have noticed that tobacco suppressed hunger. In his book Tobacco in History, The Culture of Dependence, Jordan Goodman notes:
The importance of suppressing hunger was one of tobacco’s main attributes, and was repeated frequently in the medical literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Much, much later cigarette companies played on smoker’s desires to be thin.
In fact, one cigarette was even named Slim, and warned smokers that if they quit they would pile on the pounds:
While tobacco companies are not known for their honesty, in this case they were spot on the mark, as a 2011 study found that nicotine activates a pathway in the brain that supresses appetite.
Does nicotine make YOU less hungry? Let me know in the comments!
Notes: Historical data was drawn from the books Velvet Glove Iron Fist by Christopher Snowdon (2009) and Tobacco in History by Jordan Goodman (1993).
- Nicotine in Electronic Cigarettes: 10 Facts All Users Should Know
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- An Interview with Nicotine Expert Dr Jacques Le Houezeq