The Link Between Nicotine And Heart Disease

92049934Take pause before you light up – or rely on electronic cigarettes to help wean you off the smokes.

Smoking can lead to a myriad of health problems, besides the superficial facial wrinkles.


The American Lung Association says that cigarettes contain more than 4,800 chemicals – 69 of those are directly linked to cancer formation. That said, by 2009 more than 20 percent of adults in the country were smokers, with 23.5 percent of men and 17.9 percent of women smoking. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) estimates that 90 percent of lung cancers are caused by smoking, and mouth, throat, lip, laryngeal and esophageal cancers are also the result of smoking.

But where’s the real damage coming from?

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Smoke Vs. Nicotine: Which Is Worse?

The smoke from cigarettes has been linked to cancers, lung problems, chronic coughs, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia and emphysema. However, it’s the nicotine that has been linked to heart problems, such as high blood pressure and rapid heart rate. Studies conducted on rats have shown that exposure to nicotine can eliminate the protective benefits of the hormone estrogen on the hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for the formation and retention of memories. And now it seems that nicotine can cause another health problem: Atherosclerosis, a medical condition in which a fatty substance called plaque builds up on the inside walls of blood vessels, which can slow or eventually block the flow of blood.

The Nicotine And Heart Disease Connection

Brown University’s Dr. Ching-Ming-Hai presented the findings of new research on the nicotine-heart disease connection at the American Society for Cell Biology’s annual meeting this past December.

He conducted research on both human and rat subjects, studying the smooth vascular tissue of the coronary arteries. The subjects exposed to nicotine saw an increase in the formation of certain cells called cellular drills. The specific cellular drill named “podosome rosettes” essentially invades the tissue of the arterial walls, and contributes noticeably to the formation of plaque on the walls.

The result of exposure to nicotine was that more of these cellular drills were created, enabling the invasion of the cellular walls by the plaque cells. In turn, this caused an increase in plaque on the arterial walls, ultimately resulting in atherosclerosis.

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The purpose of the Brown University’s study was to determine how beneficial smoking alternatives, such as the electronic cigarette or e-cigarette, really were. The e-cigarette is a battery-powered device which simulates tobacco smoking. It uses a heating element to vaporize a liquid solution of flavorings; some of these solutions are mixed with nicotine. This gadget eliminates the smoke from the cigarette, helping to reduce the risk of some cancers. But the results of this study show that simply switching over to smokeless cigarettes does little to reduce the risk of heart problems.

As the research showed, nicotine makes it easier for plaque to form on the walls of the arteries, promoting the risk of heart disease.

The findings could be applied to other smoking cessation products with nicotine administration, so, if you’re trying to kick the habit, the nicotine patch and nicotine gum could still lead to heart disease.