Nicotine- main addictive element of cigarette- emerging as promising treatment
May also be useful for brain disorders such as dementia and schizophrenia
In the case of Parkinson’s, nicotine, has been shown to activate the cells that produce dopamine
Matt Eagles smoked his first cigarettes — which he bought quite easily from the local newsagent — aged 12.
‘I was the sort of kid who just liked being naughty, but it soon became a regular habit,’ says the 51-year-old from Cuddington, Cheshire.
It’s a story familiar to millions, but while smoking is universally regarded as bad for health, in Matt’s case he believes the nicotine from the cigarettes may have had an unexpected benefit. Matt, who works in public relations, was diagnosed with the degenerative nerve condition Parkinson’s disease unusually early, aged eight, a year after strange symptoms appeared. Nicotine – the main addictive element of cigarettes – is emerging in studies as a promising treatment for Parkinson’s, ADHD, dementia, schizophrenia and even coronavirus. (Stock image) ‘I lost my sense of balance and at first they thought it was arthritis or a brain tumour,’ says Matt.
‘My left hand was developing a life of its own and kept shaking and moving, which was a problem because I’m left-handed. I felt as though my wrist was going to drop off, and I’d walk on tiptoes.
‘I love sport and was a goalkeeper, but it got to a stage where I was diving for the ball after it had gone into the net. It was very frustrating but I just moved on to do other things instead. In the end they worked out it was Parkinson’s.’
The disease, which causes uncontrollable tremor, stiffness and difficulty walking, affects about 145,000 people in Britain. As well as the physical symptoms, most patients develop memory loss as the disease progresses.
The condition occurs when cells that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain which helps control body movements, progressively die off.
There have been no new effective treatments for Parkinson’s for more than 20 years and current therapy merely reduces symptoms, rather than tackling the causes.
Now nicotine — the main addictive element of cigarettes — is emerging in studies as a promising treatment. And it may also be useful for some other brain disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dementia and schizophrenia — and even Covid.
In the case of Parkinson’s, nicotine, a chemical found in many plants, not just tobacco, has been shown to activate the cells that produce dopamine.
Research suggests that people whose diets contain a lot of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines — all of which contain nicotine — have a 30 per cent lower chance of developing Parkinson’s.
Separately, Dr Mohammed Shoaib, head of the psychopharmacology research group at Newcastle University, is leading a project to develop a nicotine-based treatment he hopes will work on the movement and memory degeneration that is caused by Parkinson’s disease.
Studies in the U.S. have also suggested that the receptors nicotine binds to increase the amount of calcium entering cells in the bones, which appears to reduce the bone loss associated with Parkinson’s.
Matt quit smoking aged 36, when offered deep brain stimulation treatment, where an implant delivers high-frequency electrical signals via electrodes into the brain to control symptoms. Bad, Good, Best: How to get the most out of food choices
This week: Parsnips
Bad: In soup A typical parsnip soup recipe contains butter and whole milk Creamy parsnip soup may well count as one of your five-a-day, but a typical recipe contains butter and whole milk and provides around 300 calories per bowl.
It also contains 6g or 30 per cent of your daily recommended allowance of saturated fat.
Good: Roasted. Roasted parsnips supplies nearly half of your RDI of vitamin B12 A 100g portion of roasted parsnips has 133 calories and 0.7g of saturated fat.
It supplies nearly half of your RDI of vitamin B12, which staves off fatigue.
However, over-roasting can increase the chemical acrylamide that is linked to cancer.
Best: Mashed Mashed parsnips provides 20 per cent of your RDI of potassium There are just 89 calories in 3 tbsp (135g) of boiled mashed parsnips — which rises to 124 calories with 1 tsp of heart-healthy olive oil.
It also provides 20 per cent of your RDI of potassium, needed for healthy blood pressure. Mash with carrots to boost your vitamin A intake.
‘Before the operation, I was on 25 different tablets a day,’ he says. ‘I found eating anything slowed the absorption of the medication but if I had a cigarette after a meal I would feel better sooner.’While he had to stop smoking ahead of the complex six-hour procedure and hasn’t smoked since, Matt is convinced nicotine had helped him: ‘Since I’ve had the implant, things have been much better, so I don’t know what difference cigarettes might have made.’No one is suggesting people take up smoking, and there is no doubt that the use of nicotine as a drug is controversial, with different views on whether it’s addictive as a treatment, for instance.Dr Shoaib says a number of promising nicotine compounds have been investigated as treatments for Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, but some have had to be abandoned due to side-effects.A trial of one drug, encenicline, was stopped because the treatment caused serious stomach problems in some people.’Patients have had their hopes raised so many times, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a nicotine compound owned by some pharmaceutical company that’s the golden bullet, but we can’t get access to it,’ he says.But if support for nicotine-based research has been lukewarm over fears of side-effects and its addictive nature, one advance that may encourage more studies is the discovery that it seems to protect people from Covid-19 — with smokers 80 per cent less likely to develop the infection (although they are more likely to suffer badly if they do catch it).Research by Konstantinos Farsalinos, a professor of public health at the University of Patras, Greece, found that although China has high smoking rates, relatively few smokers ended up in hospital.’We thought […]