The Science on Nicotine and Weight Loss

An artificial cigarette, nicotine pills, and nicotine chewing gum
An artificial cigarette, nicotine pills, and nicotine chewing gum. BSIP / UIG / Getty Images

A lot of people have health-related questions about chemicals. An interesting one is whether nicotine aids in weight loss. Now, we're not talking about smoking, which involves a complex set of chemicals and physiological processes, but pure nicotine, which is available in over-the-counter products intended to help people quit smoking. If you search for information about the effects of nicotine, you'll find all sorts of research on smoking, but relatively little on the health effects of this one specific chemical.

Nicotine's Effect on the Body

An MSDS (such as the Sigma Aldich MSDS for nicotine) indicates nicotine is a naturally-occurring isomer that is an acetylcholine receptor agonist. It is a stimulant that causes the release of epinephrine (adrenaline). This increases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration and also produces higher blood glucose levels. One of the side effects of nicotine, especially at higher doses, is appetite suppression and nausea. So basically, you have a drug that raises your metabolic rate while suppressing your appetite. It activates the brain's pleasure and reward center, so some users may use nicotine to feel good instead of, for example, eating donuts.

These are well-documented biological effects of nicotine, but they don't give a firm answer regarding whether or not it helps with weight loss. There are some studies indicate smokers may lose weight. Limited studies have been conducted relating weight and nicotine use, in part because of the perception that nicotine is addictive. It's interesting to note that while tobacco use is addictive, pure nicotine actually is not. It is the MAOI in tobacco that leads to the addiction, so persons taking nicotine who are not exposed to monoamine oxidase inhibitors do not necessarily suffer addiction and withdrawal from the substance. However, users do develop a physiological tolerance to nicotine, so it might be expected that, as with other stimulants, weight loss from nicotine use would be most successful over a short term, losing effectiveness with chronic use.

Nicotine and Weight References

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