Does Nicotine Aid Weight Loss?

How Nicotine Can Affect Your Weight

Artificial cigarette and nicotine pills and chewing gums used in smoking treatment may also reduce your appetite and cause weight loss.
Artificial cigarette and nicotine pills and chewing gums used in smoking treatment may also reduce your appetite and cause weight loss. BSIP/UIG / Getty Images

I get a lot of health-related questions about chemicals. An interesting one is whether nicotine aids in weight loss. Now, we're not talking about smoking, which involved a complex set of chemicals and physiological processes, but pure nicotine, which is available over the counter, primarily in 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. Also, 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

Here are some references that explore whether or not nicotine aids weight loss:

Arcavi L., Jacob P 3rd., Hellerstein M., & Benowitz NL. (1994) Divergent tolerance to metabolic and cardiovascular effects of nicotine in smokers with low and high levels of cigarette consumption. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 56, 55-64.

Audrain JE., Kiesges RC., & Kiesges LM. (1995) The Relationship between obesity and the metabolic effects of smoking in women. Health Psychology, 14, 116-23.

Barribeau, Tim, Why Does Nicotine Help You Lose Weight? io9.com (link retrieved 05/24/2012)

lowcarbconfidential. The Nicotine Experiment - Can It Help You Lose Weight? (link retrieved 05/24/2012)

Cabanac M, Frankham P. Evidence that transient nicotine lowers the body weight set point. Physiol Behav. 2002 Aug;76(4-5):539-42.

Leishow SJ., Sachs DP., Bostrom AG., & Hansen MD. (1992) Effects of differing nicotine-replacement doses on weight gain after smoking cessation. Archives of Family Medicine, 1, 233-7.

Minneur, Yann S. et al. Nicotine Decreases Food Intake Through Activation of POMC Neurons. Science 10 June 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6035 pp. 1330-1332.

Neese RA., Benowitz NL., Hoh R., Faix D., LaBua A., Pun K., & Hellerstein MK.

(1994) Metabolic interactions beween stopus dietary energy intake and cigarette smoking or its cessation. American Journal of Psychology, 267, E1023-34.

Nides M., Rand C., Dolce J., Murray R., O'Hara P., Voelker H., & Connett J. (1994) Weight gain as a function of smoking cessation and 2-mg nicotine gum use among middle-aged smokers with mild lung impairment in the first 2 years of the Lung Health Study. Health Psychology, 13, 354-61.

Orsini, Jean-Claude (Juin 2001) "Dependence on tobacco smoking and brain systems controlling glycemia and appetite". Alcoologie et Addictologie 23 (2S): 28S-36S.

Perkins KA. (1992) Metabolic effects of cigarette smoking. Journal of Applied Physiology, 72, 401-9.

Paulus, Carrie. Nicotine as a Means for Weight Control: Advantage or Disadvantage?, Vanderbilt University, Department of Psychology.

(link retrieved 05/23/2012)

Fielding, Johnathan E. "Smoking: Helath Effects and Control." Maxcy-Rosenau-Last: Public Health and Preventative Medicine. John M. Last & Robert B. Wallace. Appleton & Lange, Norwalk, Connecticut, 1992, 715-740.

Pirie PL., McBride CM., Hellerstedt W., Jeffrey RW., Hatsukami D., Allen S., & Lando H. (1992) Smoking cessation in women concerned about weight. American Journal of Public Health, 82, 1238-43.

Pomerleau CS., Ehrlich E., Tate JC., Markes JL., Flessiand KA., & Pomerleau OF. (1993Y The female weight-control smoker: a profile. Journal of Substance Abuse, 5, 391-400.

Richmond RL. Kehoe L., & Webster IW. Weight change after smoking cessation in general practice. Medical Journal of Australia, 158, 821-2.

Schwid SR., Hirvonen MD., & Keesey 13E. (1992) Nicotine effects on body weight a regulatory perspective. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 55, 878-84.

Seah Mi., Raygada M., & Grunberg NE. (1994) Effects of nicotine on body weight and plasma insulin in female and male rats. Life Sciences. 55, 925-31.

Winders SE., Dykstra T., Coday MC., Amos JC., Wilson MR & Wilkins DR. Use of phenylpropanolamine to reduce nicotine cessation induced weight gain in rats. Psychopharmacology, 108, 501-6.

Winders SE., Wilkins DR. 2d, Rushing PA., & Dean JE. (1993) Effects of nicotine cycling on weight loss and regain in male rats. Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior, 46, 209-13.