Friday, July 10, 2009

Alzheimer's Disease and Nicotine

In 1997, researchers at a university in Basel, Switzerland autopsied the brains of 301 patients who were 65 years or older when they died. Specifically, researchers were looking for neurological “tangles” and plaques that are seen in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Researchers had obtained a smoking history and were able to match 72 pairs for age and sex. In 28 of the pairs of smoking versus non-smoking women, smoking appeared to provide a protective effect against senile plaque formation.

More recent research has claimed that smoking increases the risk of AD. If that’s true, it must be something about smoking other than the nicotine causing problems. Research has been done and continues to be done using nicotine to treat AD.

A 4-week trial using a nicotine patch demonstrated significant improvement in attention for AD patients. Another trial provided 2 mg. nicotine gum and placebo to a group of AD patients while administering an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure brain wave activity. Nicotine significantly shifted EEG toward normal values. The National Institute on Aging is conducting an ongoing study of a nicotine patch to treat Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Galantamine is a substance extracted from
the bulbs of the daffodil. It was already being sold as a nutritional supplement before pharmaceutical companies turned it into a prescription drug (Reminyl) for the treatment of AD. In 2006, German researchers reported on a study using galantamine to reduce smoking in alcohol-dependent subjects. Across the 24-week study, smokers reduced their cigarette consumption by about 20%. Results were validated by measuring blood levels of cotinine. [Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Dec;44(12):614-22.]

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