Nicotine, an important component of cigarettes, has been found to be carcinogenic. It causes cells to undergo gene mutations which could ultimately lead to cancerous growths. The authors of the study have specially highlighted this newly discovered aspect of nicotine since it is also used in therapy to quit smoking.
Nicotine is not only addictive, it causes cancer!
Tobacco smoking has been proved to be extremely noxious to health: its components are nothing short of poisons to the body. Studies in the past have pointed at the carcinogenic nature of several components in cigarettes. Otherwise, nicotine has been hailed as the addictive compound in cigarettes which makes people cling more and more to smoking. Nicotine makes smokers become increasingly addicted to smoking. In addition to this, it has many other negative effects, like decreasing one’s appetite, causing nausea and diarrhea. Now, researchers have flashed the red light like never before: they found that nicotine is also a causative agent of cancer.
19 of the components found in tobacco have already been discussed to be carcinogenic. Nicotine is now potentially in the list.
This poses an even greater danger to smokers because as much as nicotine is used in the manufacture of cigarettes, it is also used in therapeutic measures to help smokers quit smoking.
Tobacco smoking is essentially harmful with all the poisonous components added to the cigarettes. However noxious it is to the health, it is extremely difficult to quit once one has started and made of it a habit, primarily because of the addictive agent nicotine. Methods to assist smokers in gradually decreasing their dependence on the cigarettes do exist: the use of skin patches, gum, lozenges, and recently, e-cigarettes. But, these also contain nicotine in small concentrations. Uh-oh. These products help smokers to find some relief from the withdrawal symptoms: giving up the unhealthy habit is sometimes too difficult at one go, therefore, some do it step by step.
Nicotine has not been considered to be a carcinogen and as such, the limitations of its use are quite lax. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did so on many products containing nicotine, thereby heralding nicotine as a safe substance. Now, it has been shown that nicotine can also lead to the mutations of genes: an effect even more dangerous because of nicotine being used for the ‘right’ reasons.
The methodology of the study entailed exposing cells to nicotine to later compare them with cells not exposed to the substance. Their results showed that the former group of cells had undergone thousands more mutations than the cells of the second group. These mutations were similar to those which occur in cells prior to developing cancer itself, when they are under oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a process occurring as a precursor to cancer. This led the authors of the study to conclude that nicotine might trigger mutations in cells as a result of their negative effects on genes. If the exposure to nicotine is extended over longer periods of time, this could increase the risk of developing cancerous growths.
These results are particularly valuable in today’s context because of the use of nicotine in therapies to quit smoking altogether. Using poison to get over the addictive effects of the poison is surely risky, and not really witty, is it? Further research is however needed in order to susbtantiate these results and to dig deeper into the whys and hows of nicotine action on genes. More indepth analysis needs to be done now more than ever, since products like e-cigarettes are being more and more advertised as being effective to help smokers quit.