Nicotine Addiction: Fact or Fiction?

This week is National Stop Smoking Week.   I have worked with many smokers and have some views on smoking that may be useful for those of you who currently smoke and would like to quit.  To this end, I will blog several times this week in order to give you information that you will find useful.

Addiction is defined by compulsive drug-seeking and abuse, even in the face of Healthy lung shape world design logo concept idea with love heart shape symbolic sign of women human hands on blur green natural clean air greenery background: Element of this image furnished by NASAnegative health consequences.  Smokers would definitely fall under this category – but what are they actually addicted to, and how are they addicted?  Smoking addiction is in a class by itself, in my opinion.  Smokers assume that they use tobacco products on a regular basis because they are addicted to nicotine.  The truth, however, is that they are not physically addicted to the effects of nicotine. They are addicted to the psychological effects of nicotine.  I first became aware of this fact when a woman who routinely smoked at least 2 packs a day got pregnant.  She immediately stopped smoking for the entire pregnancy with no cravings and no side-effects from stopping.  How is this possible?  If she had been addicted to heroin instead, it would have been virtually impossible without severe physical withdrawal symptoms.

Research indicates that nicotine acts on the brain’s reward pathways – and those involving the neurotransmitter dopamine.  Nicotine increases dopamine in the “reward” circuits.  All the effects that smokers attribute to nicotine are actually the result of dopamine stimulation in the brain.  Nicotine is rapidly distributed to the brain with peak levels occurring within 10 seconds of inhalation.

Nicotine is also rapidly eliminated from the body, so the nicotine-stimulating effect on dopamine is short.  In order to maintain the drug’s effects, the smoker has to take another nicotine “hit”.

The problem with smokers is that they are usually dopamine deficient to begin with – and nicotine makes them feel “good”. The unfortunate thing about most current treatments for nicotine addiction is that they concentrate on the supposed physical Cigarette stub with smokeeffects of nicotine withdrawal.  Take the patch, for example.  The patch is designed to give decreasing nicotine doses over time assuming that this will allow a smoker to “wean off” nicotine.  The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t give the smoker more dopamine I.e., it doesn’t address the dopamine deficiency.  A chronic smoker will actually experience symptoms relating to “not enough” dopamine  (irritability, craving, depression, anxiety, cognitive and attention deficits, sleep disturbances) rather than nicotine “withdrawal” symptoms. In order to quit smoking, the dopamine deficiency must be addressed.  If we can get the smoker’s brain to make more dopamine or find another way to stimulate dopamine release, then

Stopping smoking can become relatively easy – and I have never met a smoker who really didn’t want to quit.

Until the next installment…

Dr. Gatis

Pesticides Are Linked to Lower Sperm Counts

Arzt untersucht Tomaten mit Stethoskop auf Gefahr fr GesundheitA recent study by Jorge Chavarro, an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, published in Human Reproduction, found that men eating fruits and vegetables high in pesticide residues had lower sperm counts and more oddly-shaped sperm than those who had lower levels of dietary pesticide exposure.  Researchers classified the produce as high or low-to-moderate levels of pesticides.  The men who ate the high-pesticide fruits and vegetables had a 49% lower total sperm count and a 32% reduction in normally-shaped sperm as compare to the men eating the least amount of high-pesticide produce.

One study isn’t definitive proof of pesticide effects on sperm – but for those men demonstrating low sperm counts, it should be concerning.  It isn’t good enough to just eat 5 to 9 fruits and vegetables per day.  We all need to find ways to thoroughly wash the pesticides off the food we eat and/or eat organically, if possible.

Here are the fruits and vegetables that were tested ranked from highest level to lowest level of pesticide contamination:

  • Green, yellow and red peppers;
  • Spinach;
  • Strawberries;
  • Celery;
  • Blueberries;
  • Potatoes;
  • Peaches and plums;
  • Apples and pears;
  • Winter squash;
  • Kale, mustard greens and swiss chard;
  • Grapes and raisins

Until next time…

Dr. Gatis

Marriage Does Have Its Advantages

Marriage can be a tax break – and most of us have made a joke about marriage “breaking” us.  Research shows, however, that healthy, unmarried people who rated their health as “excellent” were, on average, 75 percent more likely to die during the 20 year period studied than married people.  The benefits declined, however, as people’s health or marriage declined.  Unmarried people in “fair” health were only 40 percent more likely to Dollarphotoclub_70805976die than married people.

The American Psychological Association found that couples who later divorced had 34 percent higher levels of norepinephrine in their blood.  Norepinephrine is a stress hormone – and the implication is, of course, that being married is less stressful, or not being married is more stressful.  Professor Janet Kiecolt-Glaser, from the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University states that “marital quality is a good predictor of subsequent health” and how personal relationships, especially marriage, can translate into positive health outcomes.  When a new Star Trek movie comes out, Mr. Spock will have to change his greeting to ….”Get married, live long and prosper”!

Until next time…

Dr. Gatis