Are cigarettes all bad? Usually yes. I'm not disagreeing with every medical board and health association on the planet and stating that there is a silver lining to blackened lungs. Long-term smoking is a first class ticket to heart disease, cancer and other serious health conditions.
However, believe it or not, research suggests that certain components in cigarettes may actually benefit particular health conditions.
Here are (gulp) 3 health 'benefits' of smoking. Take a deep breath...
The most interesting health benefit of smoking is its alleged ability to relieve mental health symptoms, namely anxiety and schizophrenia. An article in the Neuroscience & Biobehavioural Reviews journal revealed that schizophrenics smoke more than people with other mental health difficulties to self-medicate their condition.
The article hypothesises that nicotine reduces the cognitive, psychiatric and sensory effects of schizophrenia. Does it? According to these guys, nicotine has a positive effect on the brain. This report could all up in smoke once the World Health Organisation gives it more attention.
Back in 2006, Duke scientists found that depressed people who were treated with nicotine patches reported feeling happier. I'm not sure about that one. The results are perhaps not surprising for a drug linked with delivering a short-term buzz.
The findings revealed a direct link between nicotine and an increase in the levels of serotonin and dopamine. A lack of these two vital neurotransmitters is a common cause of depression.
According to the University of Melbourne, many smokers claim that tobacco is a powerful appetite suppressant, meaning they used it to treat obesity and binge-eating disorders. The Melbourne research revealed similar findings in mice and lab rats exposed to cigarette smoke. Well that explains why, in the 1920s and '30s, tobacco companies appealed to women by claiming that smoking would make them lose weight.
A 2011 report issued in the Journal Physiology & Behaviour July 2011 is one of several saying that weight gain upon quitting smoking is a huge obstacle in getting smokers to stop, second only to addiction. It appears the act of smoking triggers behaviour modification, prompting them to skip snacks. As patients have stated, smoking takes away the taste of their meals, which further curbs their appetite.
Before you ditch the carefully thought-out diet plan for a pack of Marlboros, the connection between smoking and weight loss is complicated. I think the reason so many smokers gain weight after quitting is because they look for something to keep their hands busy (in this case food), to reduce their nicotine cravings.
Also, if smoking supresses appetite for food, would this not result in people skipping meals and disturbing their metabolism levels? We've all heard of dieters who skip breakfast and other meal times to lose weight in the short term, only to pile it back on later.
One way you'll lose weight through smoking is by suffering cigarette-induced lung cancer, so treat nicotine as a weight loss supplement at your own peril.
Further studies found Alzheimer patients to be another group of people who benefitted from taking nicotine. In one study, a group of patients were given nicotine patches while others were given a placebo. Surprisingly, those with patches not only retained their cognitive abilities longer but some even retrieved lost cognitive functions.
Follow-up studies have also revealed that older people experiencing mental decline could benefit from nicotine. I can see the marketing campaigns now – a room full of smartly dressed elderly gentleman smoking extravagant cigars alongside tall leggy blondes and brunettes at business meetings.
Anyway, looking at the bigger picture, it would be ill-advised to start giving people reasons to start or continue smoking. However, it appears that tobacco might just contain some chemicals of real healing value.