Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes increases your chances of lung cancer, heart disease, and early death. But one researcher says that nicotine may actually have some surprising benefits.
Can nicotine be an aid for older adults fighting memory loss? One researcher thinks so.
When Reece Dean started to experience changes in his mood he never thought it would lead to a diagnosis of mild cognitive decline, the early stages of dementia.
“he was very irritable and explosive almost at times,” said Mary Ann Dean.
Then his wife saw a flyer for the mind study, which stands for memory improvement through nicotine dosing.
Paul Newhouse, MD, Director of Vanderbilt Center for Cognitive Medicine, Vanderbilt University said, “What nicotine does is it imitates the action of a normally-occurring chemical in the brain that’s important for signaling. It’s called acetylcholine.”
Acetylcholine is important for learning, memory, and attention.
“And nicotine can help imitate the actions of acetylcholine when it’s being degraded by Alzheimer’s disease,” said Doctor Newhouse.
Doctor Newhouse treated 74 patients and with the skin patch version of nicotine on a daily basis for six months. He saw improvements in attention and memory. But with nicotine having a reputation for being bad for your health, can it really be good for your brain?
Reece Dean said, “Well I’m an ex-smoker, so why do I want to put nicotine back in my system because that would make me want to crave a cigarette.”
“The answer seems to be that if you give it through the skin, you don’t have any of those kinds of problems,” said Doctor Newhouse.
Doctor Newhouse has not seen any habit-forming problems in his patients. And mary ann, who doesn’t know whether her husband got the patch or the placebo in an ongoing study, says she got her husband back.
“His personality went back to being how he use to be, so we felt pretty sure that he did not have the placebo,” said Mary Ann Dean.
Doctor Newhouse does not get any funding from the tobacco industry and does not consider the results an endorsement for smoking.
The pitch is not a cure but it helps with symptoms making life enjoyable.
Doctor Newhouse is still enrolling patients for his current trial for the mind study.