Nicotine damages the brain for a very long time

Brain damage from nicotine is long-lasting

Anyone who has stopped smoking can be proud of themselves. However, as scientists report in the study "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)" based on a study, former smokers have to struggle with the cognitive and physical consequences for a long time. Apparently, this is due to neurological changes caused by years of cigarette consumption The glutamate system shows a significant undersupply in the course of a current study.

Nicotine damage Nicotine has a more sustainable effect on the human brain than medical research has previously assumed. The effects are longer lasting and more pronounced, the Swiss researchers write in "PNAS".

The research team led by Gregor Hasler examined the glutamate system of non-smokers, active smokers and ex-smokers. The glutamate household in the central nervous system was compared with all three groups of volunteers.

Glutamate levels in the brain reduced by an average of 20 percent. It was found that a special protein “mGluR5” was much less available in cigarette users than in non-smokers. The amount of glutamate in the brain was reduced by an average of 20 percent and in some areas of the brain even by 30 percent. “New non-smokers”, ie study participants who gave up smoking around 25 weeks ago, showed a 10 to 20 percent reduction in the “mGluR5” protein. "The change in the glutamate system in people who smoke is far greater than previously thought," reports Hasler.

The reduced GluR5 values ​​in ex-smokers show that the receptors have not yet regenerated. It will probably take a long time to restore the glutamate system. "It is therefore likely that the slow normalization of the level will contribute to a high relapse rate," the scientists write in the study report.

More hunger and fear The scientists now suspect that changes in the glutamate system are also responsible for the increased incidence of anxiety disorders in smokers. For former smokers, the shifts could lead to an increased risk of being overweight. "That is still unclear," emphasize the study authors. Research needs to be continued here.

With regard to the development of drugs that could act on the protein, it should be borne in mind that the effects in smokers and ex-smokers can differ significantly from those in non-smokers, "explains the senior doctor from Bern." But drugs that are direct Interfering with the glutamate system could help smokers with their weaning, "continued Gregor Hasler and colleagues.

Because nicotine has a stimulating but also calming effect, many smokers suffer from physical symptoms even weeks after the first withdrawal. There are symptoms such as tiredness, headache, difficulty falling asleep, dizziness, aggression, lack of concentration and an increased feeling of hunger. It is precisely these symptoms that make many people start smoking again. Nevertheless, it is worth stopping smoking because the risk of developing lung cancer and heart attack can be significantly reduced. (sb)

Read on:
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