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The 3 Best Supplements For Quitting Smoking

Published: 13th May 2018. Last updated: 21th July 2019.

Shaun Ward MSc ANutr

Staff Writer


Introduction

The United States Surgeon General’s Report in 1964 was the first document to truly establish the dangers of cigarette smoking, and since this time many people have tried their best to quit their bad habit.

It is estimated by the National Institutes of Health that public health efforts have already halved the amount of smokers in the United States, but many people still struggle to give up.

Smoking remains the single most common preventable cause of death in the world, and is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the United States.

It goes without saying that smoking causes devastating health problems, including heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. Further, quitting smoking at any age leads to significant reductions in these risks.

Firstly, Why Is Smoking Addictive?

Smoking is one of the most addictive habits in the world and is the reason why most people find it hard to quit.

The component within cigarettes that is mainly responsible for such addiction is nicotine - a toxic liquid which is the chief active constituent of tobacco.

When a person inhales smoke from a cigarette, nicotine is distilled from the tobacco and is carried in smoke particles to the lungs where it enters arterial circulation and diffuses readily into brain tissue.

Within the brain, nicotine binds to nicotinic cholinergic receptors and stimulates neurotransmitter release [1].

Specifically, nicotine binds to the α4β2 receptor subtype, which is believed to be the main receptor the mediates nicotine dependence [2].

Brain imaging studies demonstrate that this effect increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, thalamus, and visual system, and releases a variety of neurotransmitters in the brain, most importantly dopamine [3].

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which causes reward-motivated behavior and can become very addicting [4].

In fact dopamine release is said to be critical to the reinforcing effects of nicotine and any other abusive drugs [5].

The role of the diet in regulating the mechanisms related to these neurotransmitters related to smoking still needs to be further assessed [6].

1. Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of essential fatty acids.

For many years omega-3 intake has been continuously linked to a range of positive health effects on brain function, such as its role within neurotransmitter pathways, synaptic transmission, membrane permeability and signal transduction [7].

The role of omega-3 in smoking addiction does not have a great deal of research behind it, however there is a clear lower omega-3 fatty acid intake among smokers [8]. Whether this implies a risk factor for smoking addiction, or a consequence of tobacco use, is not fully understood.

However, dietary supplementation of omega-3’s has been reported to reduce tobacco cravings in regular smokers compared to placebo. For example, a study which supplemented EPA and DHA (2 types of omega-3’s) in smokers reported a significant decrease in the number of daily cigarettes smoked and tobacco craving episodes [9].

Similar research linked DHA supplementation to improvements in psychological health and coping with stress in smokers after just one month of administration [10].

The mechanisms behind these potential benefits needs further research, but it is currently hypothesized that omega-3’s may renormalize the dopaminergic system and reduce the negative symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

2. Rhodeola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is a perennial flowering plant in the family Crassulaceae, grown naturally in wild Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America.

It has been used in traditional medicine for a long time as a stimulant for the central nervous system, but more relevant research shows that it can increase the bodies resistance to environmental stressors.

Some experts even claim that rhodiola rosea is an “adaptogen”.

Adaptogenic properties of rhodiola rosea have been attributed primarily to its ability to influence the concentration and activities of serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline [11].

It is proposed that rhodiola rosea does so by inhibiting the activity of enzymes responsible for monoamine degradation and facilitating the transport of neurotransmitters in the brain.

In animal studies, the use of rhodiola rosea extract also causes an antidepressant-like effect which might help to combat the need for nicotine in the withdrawal phase of quitting [12].

Other animal studies have found that rhodiola rosea reduces signs of abstinence in nicotine-dependent rats. This is attributed to the normalization of 5-HT by rhodiola rosea after nicotine has been removed [13].

Future human research is required to better assess the impact of this herbal supplement to helping smokers get over their nicotine addiction.

3. N-Acetylcysteine (NAC)

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a supplement form of cysteine, a sulphur-containing amino acid.

The benefit is NAC in helping with quitting smoking is due to its effect on glutamate, with recent research analyzing the role of glutamate on substance dependence and its involvement in relapse [14].

In animal studies, synaptic glutamate transmission mediates the primary reinforcing effects of nicotine. It does so by stimulating mGluR2/3 receptors, inhibiting synaptic glutamate release, and lowering the rewarding effects of nicotine [15].

Similar research has also shown that increasing extracellular glutamate levels attenuates the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, which may ease the difficulty of the withdrawal process [16].

Human studies are severely lacking, but pilot studies have shown that NAC can decreases cue-induced number of cigarettes smoked per day [17].

They have also demonstrated that supplementing with NAC for just 3.5 days, 1,800mg per day, has a large effect on lowering the feeling of nicotine reward in smokers [18].

Conclusion

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is a supplement form of cysteine, a sulphur-containing amino acid.

The benefit is NAC in helping with quitting smoking is due to its effect on glutamate, with recent research analyzing the role of glutamate on substance dependence and its involvement in relapse [14].

In animal studies, synaptic glutamate transmission mediates the primary reinforcing effects of nicotine. It does so by stimulating mGluR2/3 receptors, inhibiting synaptic glutamate release, and lowering the rewarding effects of nicotine [15].

Similar research has also shown that increasing extracellular glutamate levels attenuates the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, which may ease the difficulty of the withdrawal process [16].

Human studies are severely lacking, but pilot studies have shown that NAC can decreases cue-induced number of cigarettes smoked per day [17].

They have also demonstrated that supplementing with NAC for just 3.5 days, 1,800mg per day, has a large effect on lowering the feeling of nicotine reward in smokers [18].

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