The Science of Nicotine and Weight Loss

An artificial cigarette, nicotine pills, and nicotine chewing gum
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Many people have health-related questions about chemicals. One of the most common is whether nicotine promotes weight loss. We're not talking about smoking—which involves a complex set of chemicals and physiological processes—but using 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

Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), such as the Sigma Aldrich 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 (also known as adrenaline). This neurotransmitter 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. In other words, nicotine is 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 the drug helps with weight loss. There are some studies that indicate that smokers may lose weight. Limited studies have been conducted regarding weight loss and nicotine use, in part because of the perception that nicotine is addictive. It's interesting to note that while tobacco is addictive, pure nicotine actually is not. It is the monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) in tobacco that leads to addiction, so people 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.

Sources

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