A new research points out that nicotine can protect the brain from ailments such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, shield the brain from aging and also aid in preventing obesity.
The study by Texas A&M University (TAMU) reveals that nicotine tends to show neuroprotective abilities along with appetite curbing qualities.
The researchers used animal models, and gave them water with nicotine diluted in it. There were three levels of nicotine mixed in water - low, high and medium.
On analysing the groups, it was found that the group which consumed low and medium levels of nicotine did not show any sign indicating the presence of drugs in their blood. Also, there were no changes observed in their weight, quantity of food intake and the number of brain receptors where nicotine impacts.
Whereas, in the high nicotine consuming group, it was found that they gained less weight, consumed less food and showed increased number of brain receptors. These results highlighted the fact that nicotine can enter parts of the brain where it can affect behaviour. The researchers expected side effects that would be worrying, but surprisingly it wasn't so.
The research was carried out by a team led by associate professor Ursula Winzer-Serhan and was published on the college's website on September 20. "Some people say that nicotine decreases anxiety, which is why people smoke, but others say it increases anxiety," Winzer-Serhan stated.
"The last thing you would want in a drug that is given chronically would be a negative change in behaviour. Luckily, we didn't find any evidence of anxiety. Only two measures showed any effect even with high levels of nicotine, and if anything, nicotine made animal models less anxious," she added.
The team of researchers tried finding out the effect of nicotine on aged animal models and found that the drug also prevented weight gain in them. But it was still unknown if nicotine curbed appetite, caused brain degeneration or had any other effects.
"I want to make it very clear that we're not encouraging people to smoke. Even if these weren't very preliminary results, smoking results in so many health problems that any possible benefit of the nicotine would be more than cancelled out," Winzer-Serhan said.
"However, smoking is only one possible route of administration of the drug, and our work shows that we shouldn't write-off nicotine completely," she added.
Winzer-Serhan also said that the results are intriguing, but they would need large-scale clinical trials before making more suggestions.
"At the end of the day, we haven't proven that this addictive drug is safe—and it certainly isn't during childhood or adolescence—or that the benefits outweigh the potential risks," she added.