By PartyBoy – MuscleTalk Moderator
Most people are aware of the fact that the drug nicotine is found in cigarettes and other tobacco products and is the substance primarily responsible for their addictive nature. But what exactly is nicotine, where does it come from, what are the real effects, and are there any possible uses for the average bodybuilder? We are always looking for novel ways to use existing drugs aside from the intended medical use, a fact which is clearly apparent when considering certain Prescription Only Medicines (POMs).
What is Nicotine?
Nicotine is an organic alkaloid which is found more notably in the tobacco plant in quantities of around 5% of the plant’s dry weight. Although a poison in higher quantities, it acts as a pleasure stimulant in lower concentrations. There is approximately 0.8-1.0mg of nicotine in a single cigarette.
What are the effects of use?
It acts as an agonist of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, stimulating their activity which leads to increased amount of the hormone adrenaline to be released. As a result, an increase in blood pressure and heart rate is seen, as well as a rise in blood glucose. Chronic use often provides a relaxing effect, though this is in all probability due to the cessation of short term withdrawal effects which include irritability, headaches and anxiety, amongst others. Aside from its effects on adrenaline, nicotine also increases levels of dopamine in the brain, resulting in a feeling of pleasure; a trait that is primarily responsible for the addictive qualities of the drug.
Benefits to the Bodybuilder
As you would expect from a stimulant, particularly in reference to its effect on adrenaline release, nicotine appears to hold some promise for those wishing to reduce bodyfat. There is evidence to suggest that nicotine supplementation of just 1mg per dose could be beneficial in increasing total calorie expenditure, through increases in metabolic rate and thermogenisis (1,2,3,4,5,6). Furthermore, it has been shown that the conjunctional ingestion of 50mg caffeine results in an approximate 100% increase in thermic response over nicotine alone, with no reported side effects. There is also a notion that nicotine may result in reductions in insulin secretion which may lead to an increase in the utilisation of fat, protein and glycogen (7,8,9) together with a reduction in preference for sugary foods.
Also, nicotine clearly acts as an appetite suppressant (10,11,12,13). This fact is proven from many accounts of ex-smokers who find themselves gaining weight (14).
Further noteworthy effects are that nicotine appears to decrease lipolysis, resulting in lower storage of adipose tissue (15). It may also act as a stimulus of Uncoupling Protein 1 (UCP1) in adipose tissue (16,17). As we know, UCP1 acts within the mitochondria making the conversion of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) less efficient, with a resultant generation of heat. The mitochondria therefore need to work much harder to produce the same level of energy (ATP), thus increasing metabolic rate. This same process is seen (albeit to a much greater degree) from the use of the drug 2, 4-Dinitrophenol (DNP) which is used for weight loss.
Looks very promising doesn’t it?! If nicotine is indeed benficial for those looking to shed fat, would I advocate that one should starting puffing 20 cigarettes a day? I would hope that everyone would agree that doing so would not be a sensible choice. Nowadays however, there are products available such as nasal sprays, inhalators, chewing gum or tablets that dissolve under the tongue, which are designed to deliver the drug in a much safer, more controlled manner, without the negative consequences associated with tobacco smoke.
For our purpose, the best such product would be chewing gums such as Nicotinell™ and Nicorette™. Nicotine from these products is actually delivered through the mucous membrane lining of the mouth, with the user lodging it between the gum and cheek, chewing only occasionally. Swallowing the nicotine is futile as it is destroyed by the liver. Chewing gums are manufactured in two strengths; 2mg and 4mg, though it is worth pointing out that only about 50% of the stated dose is actually absorbed. This would make the 2mg option ideal given the research with 1mg dosages (1), though it would be more cost effective to use the higher strength gums and splitting over two dosages. It is worth avoiding drinking acidic beverages or coffee immediately prior or during chewing, as this negatively affects potency.
What are the risks of supplementation?
Due to the effects on blood pressure, it would be wise to monitor this closely so that supplementation can be stopped should it rise to abnormal levels. Some users may experience nausea, or even vomiting, something which is also sometimes endured by new smokers. Although not thought to be directly carcinogenic, nicotine does interfere with apoptosis, which is one of the means used by the body to destroy unwanted cells (programmed cell death). Since apoptosis helps remove mutated or damaged cells that may evolve into cancerous tissue, its inhibition by nicotine creates more favourable conditions for cancer to develop once the initial mutations have occurred. Risk of birth defects associated with nicotine appear very small, but would nontheless be worthy of consideration for pregnant females and nursing mothers.
But what about addiction? It’s true that chronic smoking can often lead to the addiction of nicotine, so is it possible that dependance may occur from using other sources such as chewing gum? Well the incidences are very slight indeed, with less that 1% of gum users becoming dependant upon it. Addiction appears to depend largely on the speed of absorbtion. Nicotine from smoking reaches the brain within 7 seconds, with maximum blood concentrations of around 22ng/ml reached after only 5 minutes. In comparison, chewing gum will yield a maximum blood concentration of around 7ng/ml, this level being reached 30 minutes after chewing begins.
So is it worth it?
It is clear that this drug holds some promise as an aid to fat loss and may be a worthy addition to the arsenal of products used, though the relative high cost, and perhaps the stigma that is attached to smoking and thus nicotine, means that we’re unlikely to see it becoming a feature in legitimate supplement formulations.
- Jessen AB, Toubro S, Astrup A. Effect of chewing gum containing nicotine and caffeine on energy expenditure and substrate utilization in men, Am J Clin Nutr, 2003 Jun;77(6):1442-7.
- Glouser et al (1970)
- Hofstetter (1986)
- Schechter and Cook (1976)
- Grunberg, Bowen and Morse (1984)
- Grunberg (1982)
- Grunberg et al (1988)
- Tjalve and Popov (1973)
- Florey, Milner and Miall (1977)
- Grunberg (1986)
- Blaha et al (1998)
- Li et al (2000)
- Zhang et al (2001)
- Chen H, Vlahos R, Bozinovski S, Jones J, Anderson GP, Morris MJ. Effect of short-term cigarette smoke exposure on body weight, appetite and brain neuropeptide Y in mice. Neuropsychopharmacology2005 Apr;30(4):713-9.
- Sztalryd et al (1996)
- Aria et al (2001)
- Klesges et al (1989)