Thursday, August 16, 2018
Health

Study finds nicotine safe, helps in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

Smoking, of course, damages the lungs and blood vessels, and contributes to an array of health problems, but nicotine — the calming chemical that cigarettes deliver — might actually be good for the aging brain.

Smokers, for example, are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease — a phenomenon that has long puzzled scientists because smoking contributes to cardiovascular disease, which strongly increases the risk of Alzheimer's.

But closer investigation revealed that smoking doesn't confer the protection; nicotine does.

A study of Alzheimer's patients showed that those who wore nicotine patches were better able to remember and pay attention than those who didn't. Another study showed that nicotine boosted cognitive function in older people who didn't have Alzheimer's, but were showing signs of age-related mental decline.

Nicotine also seems to protect against Parkinson's disease, in which the death of cells in a small area of the brain results in tremors, impairing movement and as well as cognitive difficulties.

So what's going on? How does the dreaded addictive component of cigarettes produce health benefits?

For starters, nicotine by itself isn't very addictive at all, according to Dr. Paul Newhouse, the director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Cognitive Medicine. Nicotine seems to require assistance from other substances found in tobacco to get people hooked.

"People won't smoke without nicotine in cigarettes, but they won't take nicotine by itself," said Newhouse, who has done extensive research into beneficial effects of nicotine on the brain. "Nicotine is not reinforcing enough. That's why FDA agreed nicotine could be sold over the counter. No one wants to take it because it's not pleasant enough by itself. And it's hard to get animals to self-administer nicotine the way they will with cocaine."

Nicotine is chemically similar to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that declines in Alzheimer's disease. Drugs such as Aricept help people with Alzheimer's by boosting brain levels of acetylcholine. Apparently, nicotine binds to the receptors in the brain normally occupied by acetylcholine, which benefits people who need more, but it has no apparent effect on those who don't.

"Nicotine doesn't appear to enhance normal people," Newhouse said, "but in people who show some degree of cognitive impairment, nicotine appears to produce a modest but measurable effect on cognitive function, particularly in areas of attention and, to some extent, memory."

Newhouse and his colleagues are testing nicotine to see if it improves other cognitive problems like the mental fogginess known as "chemo brain" that afflicts cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. They've also started a study of adults with Down syndrome, who almost always develop Alzheimer's disease by the time they reach middle age. Even people with HIV, which appears to cause accelerated cognitive decline, may benefit.

What makes nicotine especially attractive as a treatment is the fact it causes virtually no side effects, according to Newhouse.

"It seems very safe even in nonsmokers," he said. "In our studies we find it actually reduces blood pressure chronically. And there were no addiction or withdrawal problems, and nobody started smoking cigarettes. The risk of addiction to nicotine alone is virtually nil."

Tom Valeo writes on health matters. He can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Fentanyl use drove drug overdose deaths to a record high in 2017, CDC estimates

Fentanyl use drove drug overdose deaths to a record high in 2017, CDC estimates

Drug overdose deaths surpassed 72,000 in 2017, according to provisional estimates recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That represents an increase of more than 6,000 deaths, or 9.5 percent, over the estimate for the pr...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The hardest part: actually choosing the day of his death. ‘No one is ever really ready.’

The hardest part: actually choosing the day of his death. ‘No one is ever really ready.’

In the end, it wasn’t easy for Aaron McQ to decide when to die.The 50-year-old Seattle man — a former world traveler, triathlete and cyclist — learned he had leukemia five years ago, followed by an even grimmer diagnosis in 2016: a rare form of amyot...
Published: 08/15/18
Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General Hospital was ranked as Florida’s second-best hospital in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Hospital Rankings released Tuesday, while Moffitt Cancer Center was named the country’s eighth-best cancer hospital.The rankings, which analy...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/15/18
Florida Hospital to change its name to AdventHealth

Florida Hospital to change its name to AdventHealth

Beginning next year, the Florida Hospital brand will be known as AdventHealth.The Central Florida-based health care chain, which has nearly 50 hospital campuses and more than 80,000 employees, including seven hospitals around Tampa Bay, announced the...
Published: 08/14/18
Life skills, love shared at GiGi’s

Life skills, love shared at GiGi’s

TAMPA — Learning, life skills and love are offered unconditionally at GiGi’s Playhouse Tampa, a Down syndrome achievement center opening Saturday.Specially-designed therapeutic, educational and career development programs are provided for all ages, a...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/15/18
Pinellas health officials report measles in an unvaccinated child

Pinellas health officials report measles in an unvaccinated child

An unvaccinated child has contracted the contagious measles virus in Pinellas County, according to the Florida Department of Health, which said Monday it is investigating the case. It was unclear how the child contracted the virus, according to the h...
Published: 08/13/18
CVS offering 24-hour ‘virtual care’ on its app to treat minor illnesses

CVS offering 24-hour ‘virtual care’ on its app to treat minor illnesses

Florida residents seeking treatment for minor health problems can now take advantage of a new, quick, virtual service from CVS Health’s MinuteClinic.The new service, called MinuteClinic Video Visits, will provide patients with video access to health-...
Published: 08/09/18
Lyme disease is on the rise in Florida, but experts don’t know why

Lyme disease is on the rise in Florida, but experts don’t know why

When Jackie Dube found circular rashes with bullseye points on her stomach, she went to the hospital. Doctors told her she had an allergic reaction to flea bites. A year later, she became seriously ill. Flu-like symptoms and chronic joint pain would ...
Published: 08/08/18
Updated: 08/09/18
Next generation: Many younger doctors like the idea of universal health care

Next generation: Many younger doctors like the idea of universal health care

When the American Medical Association — one of the nation’s most powerful health care groups — met in Chicago this June, its medical student caucus seized an opportunity for change.Though they had tried for years to advance a resolution calling on th...
Published: 08/08/18
Plant City therapy dog brightens days for kids

Plant City therapy dog brightens days for kids

PLANT CITY — When Kaleb French first visited therapy dog Bonnie at the library, he was too shy to read aloud to her. Instead, his mother read to the dog. Eventually, he began whispering the words to her.Now, the 7-year-old’s voice echoes through the ...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/09/18