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Chemical Found in Tobacco Products Could Protect Aging Brain, Study Suggests

Sep 22, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
Smoking
A new study revealed that a certain chemical in tobacco products when given by itself could help protect the brain as it ages and can potentially prevent onset of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
(Photo : Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A new study revealed that a certain chemical in tobacco products when given by itself could help protect the brain as it ages and can potentially prevent onset of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

The study, published in the Journal of Toxicology, suggests that nicotine, if given independently from tobacco, could promote the increase of receptors in the brain. Additionally, taking nicotine alone could also help in weight loss.

For the study, the researchers obtained young adult male mice from a breeding colony established at Texas A&M University's Laboratory Animal Research and Resource facility. The mice were then divided into four groups. The first three groups of mice received different three different concentrations of nicotine through their drinking water, while the last group did not receive any nicotine, which served as the control group.

The researchers observed that the groups of mice receiving low and medium concentrations of nicotine did not show any levels of the drug in their blood. On the other hand, the group that was exposed to high doses of nicotine showed some levels of the drug in their blood. Furthermore, the group receiving the highest concentration of nicotine ate less, gained less weight and had more receptors in their brain.

Additionally, the researchers did not find any significant behavioral side effects to nicotine exposure, even at high doses, to the animal models.

"Some people say that nicotine decreases anxiety, which is why people smoke, but others say it increases anxiety," explained Ursula Winzer-Serhan, PhD, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and lead author of the study, in a press release. "The last thing you would want in a drug that is given chronically would be a negative change in behavior. 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."

However, the researchers noted that they are not encouraging the use of tobacco products. There are so many negative health effects of smoking, which makes any potential benefits of nicotine to be cancelled out.

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