Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nicotine Improves Cognitive Performance

Six months’ treatment with nicotine produces measurable improvement in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a decline in cognition and function that falls short of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, according to research published in the journal Neurology (abstract here) by Dr. Paul Newhouse at the University of Vermont and colleagues at Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Duke and the University of California San Diego.

Newhouse et al. enrolled 74 non-smoking subjects and gave about half of them 15 mg. nicotine patches for six months (the other half got placebo patches). The results:

“This study demonstrated that transdermal nicotine treatment for 6 months improved cognitive performance in subjects with amnestic MCI…Several secondary cognitive measures showed significant nicotine-induced improvement including psychomotor speed and attention on several tasks as well as significant effects on long-term memory seen in both the paragraph recall task and computerized word recall task…There were trends for improvements in a number of other cognitive measures…There was no evidence for loss of cognitive effects over time. The primary clinical outcome, the Clinical Global Impression by the clinician, did not show significant improvement; however, patients and their informants did report nicotine-induced improvements.

“This study found that transdermal nicotine over 6 months is a safe treatment for nonsmoking subjects with MCI…measures of attentional, memory, and psychomotor performance did show an effect of nicotine and this finding provides strong justification for further treatment studies of nicotine for patients with early evidence of cognitive dysfunction.”

This study extends the results from previous reports. According to Newhouse et al.:

“Cognitive improvement is one of the best established therapeutic effects of nicotine (PubMed Reference here). In human studies, nicotine improves performance in smokers on cognitively demanding attentional tasks (References here, here and here). In clinical studies, memory improvement was initially seen with IV nicotine in subjects with Alzheimer’s Disease (Reference here). Others have also found nicotine administration by subcutaneous injection or transdermal patch to improve
cognitive function in Alzheimer’s Disease (References here, here and here; one reference not in Pubmed).”

This research confirms that nicotine improves cognitive performance in people with MCI, and it may also benefit those with Alzheimer’s Disease. For those who would demonize nicotine, this should be highly informative.

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