So far, the health hazards of smoking and smoking are well known. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and a major contributor to many types of cancer, heart disease and other serious or life-threatening conditions. Cigarettes are also expensive, addictive and leave a bad smell. However, medical researchers have begun to show interest in one of the most vilified components of cigarettes - nicotine. And they are interested in this potent highly addictive substance for its health benefits.
During the last decade, new research has taught us more about how nicotine affects the brain and body. Part of it is good news - for example, a lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease in smokers. Research has targeted a compound called acetylcholine as the reason. Nicotine is structurally similar to acetylcholine, a naturally occurring compound that serves as a neurotransmitter. Nicotine binds to nerve receptors and causes the nerve cells to fire more often. In one study, one group of Alzheimer's patients were given nicotine patches, while another received a placebo. Those with nicotine patches maintained their cognitive abilities for a longer time and occasionally even recovered cognitive function lost. A follow-up study indicated that nicotine may also increase cognitive abilities in older people who are not suffering from Alzheimer's disease, but are experiencing the typical mental deterioration associated with old age.
The transformation of nicotine happened when the nicotine patch was introduced. Intended to help smokers quit smoking, the nicotine patch also opened up a new way of studying the drug. Scientists suddenly had a reliable delivery system - one without the numerous carcinogens found in cigarettes - that could be standardized across various studies. A 1982 study found that patients with ulcerative colitis have fewer outbreaks when taking nicotine. However, side effects showed nicotine to be a poor long-term treatment.
In 2000, a Stanford study revealed surprising results on the effects of nicotine on blood vessels. Contrary to popular opinion, the study showed that nicotine actually increases the growth of new blood vessels. The discovery could lead to new treatments for diabetes. Many people with diabetes suffer from severe circulation problems, which can lead to gangrene and ultimately limb amputation.