Nicotine: How bad is it, really?
It’s always tricky to research health issues these days, as many sources of information seem to be focused on generating attention-grabbing headlines instead of providing accurate information on the topics you want to know about.
We’ve all probably heard everything there is to hear about nicotine and its role in the addictive nature of cigarettes. But what do you really know about nicotine? Do you know exactly how it affects your body? Is it as bad for your health as anti-smoking campaigns say it is?
Here are some facts that may shed some light on the health risks of nicotine.
Nicotine damage builds up over time.
Medical experts say that nicotine damages the body as long as you’re inhaling it. And frequent exposure to nicotine definitely takes its toll on your body. It’s been recently discovered that nicotine doesn’t have a one-time effect on your body; rather, it builds up over time. So the more cigarettes you smoke and the more nicotine you introduce to your body, the greater the damage your body sustains.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that cigarettes labeled ‘light’ or ‘mild’ have lower nicotine content than regular cigarettes and are therefore safer to smoke. The ‘light’ or ‘mild’ label doesn’t refer to the cigarette’s nicotine content or concentration but rather to the taste of tobacco. These cigarettes won’t have that strong, distinct taste of tobacco, but they’ll be just as rich in nicotine.
These labels have been fooling smokers for so long that in 2009, the FDA finally forced tobacco companies to stop labeling cigarettes as ‘mild’ or ‘light’. This put a stop to the misconception that such cigarettes were somehow less dangerous than regular cigarettes. The FDA’s efforts were all part of 2009 legislation giving the FDA the authority to regulate all tobacco products for sale on the US.
Nicotine damages your cardiovascular system.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of nicotine is the damage it inflicts on your health, particularly on your cardiovascular system. Nicotine boosts blood pressure levels, which makes you more prone to suffering from strokes or heart attacks. You’re probably already aware of that positive rush or that buzz that nicotine causes. This buzz not only increases your energy levels but also makes your heart beat faster and harder. When your heart is subjected to this every day, your blood pressure shoots up. Eventually your heart is going to get worn out from performing its daily functions and it will give out.
And since nicotine is the culprit for this, you’re going to suffer from the same effect even if you switch to nicotine replacement products such as nicotine gum and nicotine patches.
Nicotine affects the health of your lungs.
Nicotine has a less direct effect on your lungs than it does on your heart. Nicotine is the primary addiction-causing substance in cigarettes, though, and since addictive smoking wreaks havoc on your lungs, nicotine is still partly to blame for the damage. Smoking leaves you vulnerable to a whole host of respiratory illnesses and diseases, ranging in severity from asthma and allergies to lung cancer.
Smoking tobacco is widely accepted to be one of the worst things you can do to your lungs. When you inhale smoke from tobacco cigarettes, your airways start to swell up, so getting air through your lungs becomes more difficult and takes more than your usual effort. Cold weather has the same effect on your lungs, so you might notice that it’s incredibly difficult to breathe when you’re out smoking during the winter.
Other chronic lung diseases that heavy smoking makes you vulnerable to include emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Nicotine messes with your blood sugar levels.
Did you know that nicotine can affect your blood sugar levels, too? Nicotine has been found to increase blood sugar levels, which makes it more difficult for your body to get it down to normal levels. The blood sugar spikes caused by nicotine might even be just the thing to push you from pre-diabetes to full-blown diabetes. Irregular blood sugar levels also put you at greater risk of diseases such as stroke and heart attacks.
So if you’re a diabetic or if your family as a history of diabetes, you might want to think twice before lighting up that cigarette.
Nicotine withdrawal can cause stress and anxiety.
Nicotine affects your mind in such a way that the rush it brings is sometimes all you can think about. If you’re a heavy smoker, you’re probably thinking about the next time you’ll be having a cigarette, even if you just stubbed out the cigarette in your hand. This can cause stress and anxiety when you suddenly find yourself in a situation or environment where smoking is not possible. For instance, you’ll probably be really stressed out if you couldn’t go on your daily 10 AM smoke break because your morning meeting with your boss ran long.
Unfortunately, stress and smoking are often two parts of a vicious cycle. You smoke as a form of stress relief, and you spend the moments between smoke breaks in a bad mood because you’re experiencing nicotine withdrawal. So you smoke again to feel better, only to feel stressed again merely minutes after your last cigarettes. And the bad news is that you get further and further into nicotine addiction with each cigarette you smoke.
Nicotine and its health benefits
As hard as it is to believe, nicotine is said to bring some health benefits, too. You probably already know that nicotine triggers a positive rush of feelings and helps improve mood. This can be helpful for people suffering from mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
Nicotine patches have been used to relieve the discomfort caused by ulcerative colitis. Nicotine is also being extensively researched by pharmaceutical companies, particularly the substance’s effects on improving cognitive function and memory. Many pharmaceutical researchers are of the opinion that the substance has potential for enhancing the memory and cognitive functions of schizophrenics and of seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Nicotine is also said to be helpful in keeping Parkinson’s disease at bay.
At Stanford University, researchers discovered that nicotine encouraged the growth of new blood vessels in the body. This is surprising because smoking cigarettes is known to damage blood vessels. Researchers are still looking for ways to make the most of nicotine’s positive effects on blood vessel growth.
Taking all these into account, the negative effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction seem to outweigh its benefits. Think about the damage nicotine can inflict on your body the next time you’re lighting up a cigarette.