Moment for Health: Say Nix to Nicotine

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There is much to contemplate about the saying, “ignorance is bliss.” I say this because so many people knowingly lie in wait for the arrow of wisdom to pierce the fastidiously stubborn parts of their grey matter into an “aha” moment, spurring them into positive action.

Alas, some of these moments come after a death or tragedy where the positive is merely a lesson learned the hard way. Yet for many, simply not knowing is such a great fallback, a way to relieve liability, alleviate stress and provides justification for many things, including bad habits that constitute bad health.

With 2015 rolling along, many resolutions are underway and I can think of no other group in better need than those trapped in a perpetual cycle of inhaling toxic chemicals for pleasure, coping and habitual dependency. And that includes smoking cigarettes. Those of you smokers rolling your eyes, stay with me please. I’m not lecturing, just attempting to aim an arrow of words your way that might provide an impetus to taking action.

I want to focus on one aspect, and that is tobacco’s nefarious nicotine. Most people realize it is bad, but so is refined sugar and transfats. And geez, how harmful can a chocolate chip cookie be? So, bad in this sense becomes an all around dumping ground for things that are not healthful and gets left in a defensive pile of so what.

Nicotine is a stimulant drug, as well as an addictive one. The tobacco plant makes nicotine in its roots, an alkaloid that accumulates in the leaves where tobacco companies get ludicrously rich from selling it in the form of cigarettes; or now the increasingly popular e-cigarettes where nicotine is inhaled via water vapors.

The chemical is one of many defense strategies employed by plants so those that like to eat them, such as herbivores, don’t. Inevitably, it was used as an insecticide where nicotine did its job of killing off pests. But when more profitable pesticides made the scene, it went by the wayside.

But what happens when a human inhales this substance?

Nicotine rapidly enters the bloodstream, making its trek through the blood into the brain in about 10 to 20 seconds. Those that chew, place inside the mouth or snort tobacco products receive larger amounts of nicotine into the body than smokers.

Either way, the kick that comes from nicotine happens when stimulated adrenal glands release adrenaline (apinephrine). The body in turn immediately releases glucose, increases heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. In other words, the body becomes stressed out, ready for action as in the “flight or fight” syndrome.

Yet at the same time, nicotine indirectly causes dopamine (the feel-good hormone) to saturate the pleasure and motivation areas of the brain; something as to the same effects of taking heroin or cocaine. When brain dopamine levels increase, the sensation of contentment is higher and the body feels good—for a while anyway, since the half-life of nicotine is two hours.

The liver metabolizes the chemical and half the nicotine circulating is eliminated from the body. Since this drug accumulates a high tolerance over time, higher doses are constantly required to enjoy the same initial effects. It’s a never-ending cycle of wanting and needing more nicotine. And a sad fate towards many people snared by its addictive nature.

Side effects of nicotine include:

  •  tendency towards blood clotting
  • bronchospasms or restriction of muscles in the lungs
  • muscular tremors and pain
  • gastrointestinal effects such as nausea, dry mouth, dyspepsia, diarrhea, heartburn
  • joint pain
  • lightheadedness, headache, sleep disturbances, abnormal dreams, irritability, dizziness
  • increased or decreased heart rate, increased blood pressure, tachycardia, arrhythmias, coronary artery constriction
  • excess levels of insulin circulating in the blood, insulin resistance

So if your New Year’s resolutions included quitting smoking, be glad you decided to say nix to nicotine.

Contact Gina at [email protected].

 

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