Updated 26 February 2014

The health benefits of nicotine

Everybody knows that cigarettes are terrible, and they unequivocally are, but it turns out that one of their most maligned ingredients is actually not that bad for you.

Nicotine is well known for being the chemical that causes you crave your next cigarette and, more ominously, makes it so hard to quit this deadly habit. 

However, research has shown that it isn't the nicotine that kills you. It's the tar and the rat poison that does that. Nicotine in fact offers a range of health benefits that are quite beneficial to human functioning. 

For starters, smokers have notably lower incidences of Alzheimer's disease than their non-smoking counterparts. Nicotine mimics the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a dearth of which is the main cause of this disease. It is believed that this effect could also help sufferers of other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's, Tourette's, ADHD and schizophrenia. Even depression had been targeted as an area which nicotine could prove useful.

Read: Hubbly bubbly not a safe alternative to smoking

Diabetes is another area where nicotine offers potential transformative effects. The chemical has been shown to improve the growth and health of blood vessels. Diabetics often struggle with blood flow to their extremities and medical scientists are trialling a nicotine-based gel to combat this.

A 2012 study published in Neurology Today highlighted the cognitive benefits of nicotine which included memory, attention and psychomotor speed. In particular, short-term memory was boosted substantially by the presence of nicotine allowing subjects a greater degree of recall. These findings have led some researchers to call for the offering of a low-dose, slow-release nicotine patch similar to those used to help smokers quit. However, there has yet to be enough long-term clinical data to determine what the lasting effects of this idea might be.

While the traditional problem with nicotine has been its delivery method, the development of gels and patches means that nicotine could soon be shaking off its negative image and being used a potent force for good.

Source: Discovery Health

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