Monday, 2 September 2013

THE COMPLEXITY OF CHEMICAL ACTIONS AND REACTIONS GENERATED BY SMOKING


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SMOKING AND THE IRRATIONAL SIDE OF THE BRAIN

The human brain has two hemispheres which are separated by a bundle of nerves that allows them to communicate. The right side of the brain is associated with our emotion and subconscious desires. It is totally irrational and sponsored you taking up smoking in the beginning. - It unreservedly accepts smoking as a necessity to your survival. The right side of the brain and the mid-brain are related to our unconscious mind. (Visualization techniques log into the right brain). The left side of the brain is associated with conscious wishes. - It is realistic and logical. When we make a conscious decision it is only the left side  of the brain that is drawn in. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. The spinal cord branches out into countless offshoots of nerves that cover the entire body).

The brain can be thought of as a computer - it processes and stores an immeasurable amount of data. The nerve cells – which are at their highest concentration in the brain (but found all over the body), do most of the work. This is via their trillions of branches which act as a brain-body communication and transport network (operated via electric signals). Nerve cells give us the ability to reason, learn and remember, and act a ‘mood control centers’ which affect the different ways we feel. When confronted by new experiences, nerve cells are able to change their firing pattern and response. – This means that the brain has ‘plasticity’ - one factor which is very relevant to successful cessation.

CHEMICAL MESSENGERS (NEUROTRANSMITTERS)

These are messengers in the form of natural body chemicals which carry information over a tiny space from one nerve cell to: another nerve, muscle or gland, cell. - If one or more of these chemicals are not readily available in the correct amount, then the body will crave a ‘substitute’ (such as nicotine), to satisfy its needs.

HORMONES

Hormones are also chemical messengers, but they are secreted by the glands and other sources of secretion into the bloodstream where they travel a much  longer distance to reach target cells.
Note: the same chemical substances can be transported by both neurotransmitters and hormones. (The endocrine system which is often mentioned in biology, refers to glands that secrete hormones).

Survival of the human species has always meant striving after ‘must-have’ natural rewards such as food drink and sex - But the brain also craves unnatural rewards such as chemicals from smoking. - This is because the body’s biological functions do not always differentiate between natural and unnatural substances.

CHEMICAL MESSENGER IMBALANCE

Nicotine changes the effect of chemical messengers. - This is a factor that should be very clearly understood as it will help you to appreciate why you have the compulsion to keep on smoking, and make it easier for you become a born-again non-smoker. - I have tried to explain it as clearly as possible in easy to understand terms.

MIMICKING THE CHEMICAL MESSENGERS

Stimulants perform by imitating the discharge of three key feel-good, energizing chemical messengers. When there is an addiction to a stimulant such as nicotine or caffeine, the high level of stimulation generates regulatory changes in the brain cell receptor sites for dopamine, epinephrine (adrenalin), and nor epinephrine (noradrenalin). - Effectively, they begin to close down - and as a result, the addictee’ (that is you), yearns for more of the nicotine or caffeine etc., just to feel normal.

NICOTINE RECEPTORS

‘Following chronic nicotine exposure, nicotine receptors increase in number, an up regulation that contributes to nicotine’s addictive properties...’
Ref:  ScienceDailyR, (February 29th 2008), ‘Nicotine’s effects are receptor specific’ [online] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080229120651.htm  (Accessed November 1st 2011)

Within a cell or on the cell surface, there are various types of receptors - tiny sites which have controlled pores that can recognize and bind with particular substances. - These receptors act as ‘connecting points’ which allow individual cells to communicate with other cells. Both substances which are natural and unnatural to the body can activate receptors – in the latter case it is chemicals from your cigarettes.

There is one common chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) in the body known as ‘acetylcholine’ (pronounced: a-cee-til-coline). - This connects with specific receptors in the cell membranes named ‘acetylcholine receptors.  These are commonly referred to as ‘cholinergic receptors’ - the name that I will use in the book. They are very widely spread throughout the body, and are of great importance as they are connected to numerous vital functions including: respiration, maintenance of heart rate, muscle movement, memory, learning, alertness and arousal. In a normal chain of events these cholinergic receptors are stimulated by the chemical messenger acetylcholine, which is active at the tiny gaps (synapses) between nerve cells, and in the stimulation of muscle cells and gland secretion.

NICOTINIC CHOLINERGIC RECEPTORS

Now, as the chemical make-up of the active form of nicotine is very close to the chemical messenger acetylcholine, the cholinergic receptors are stimulated when they pick up nicotine molecules - hence the name which is sometimes used: ‘nicotinic cholinergic receptors’. Effectively, nicotine mimics and hijacks the place of the chemical acetylcholine, by landing on its receptor sites and changing cell activity. - Because of all the vital functions that acetylcholine is connect to, you can imagine the dramatic effect. So, just as a wrong key can sometimes open a lock, nicotine copies the actions of the chemical messenger acetylcholine.

When nicotine enters the bloodstream it is dispersed throughout the brain and body where it activates some of the cholinergic receptors. This disruption to brain chemistry has a very negative effect on normal functioning including: increased heart rate and  blood pressure, increases in the concentrations of various  hormones, and an increase in the excitability of nerves cells - one outcome is that a smoker’s body and brain are given some za-za-zoom - a power thrust to begin or get through whatever they are doing.

With a constant influx of nicotine, the body reacts to what it senses as additional acetylcholine - and in an effort to re-establish normal functioning, one adjustment it makes is to grow more cholinergic receptors. - This is one reason which may explain the body’s acceptance of nicotine.

Cholinergic receptors are found in both nerve cells, and non-nerve cells (such as those in the lungs). Critically, if nicotine fuses with cholinergic receptors on the surfaces of lung cancer cells, they are nourished to go on to divide and spread. (There is a profound impact of this scenario on non-small cell lung cancer cells).

CHEMICAL ACTIONS AND REACTIONS

If we examine the chain of chemical actions and reactions that smoking creates, we can easily comprehend why smokers absolutely insist that cigarettes give them the stamina to work more intensely, have a better attention span, and improve reaction time. - They are completely right – trials have shown that individuals who have been given doses of nicotine perform better on intricate academic tasks when matched up to their performance without nicotine. (One reason is that smoking triggers extra cholinergic receptors in the region of the brain which is connected with short term memory).

When the body absorbs nicotine in small doses, the nicotine promotes the discharge of two chemical messengers: acetylcholine and norepinephrine (noradrenalin). - This brings on a state of arousal. Conversely, when the body receives nicotine in high doses, the nicotine begins to suppress acetylcholine while at the same time escalating endorphin concentrations. - As endorphins are chemical messengers which affect emotions and de-sensitize pain, this brings on tranquility. So in a nutshell, small doses of nicotine = arousal, and high doses of nicotine = tranquility.

Nicotine influences the rate at which the body burns calories (metabolism), the regulation of body temperature, muscle tension, and various hormone levels. It activates the reward centres within the brain - and the impact is almost immediate as the levels of the chemical messenger dopamine (which helps produce hormones involved in the ‘fight or flight’ response), rocket up the stress hormones. It seems probable that a number of chemical messengers and their networks affect the need to keep smoking and some people’s failure to permanently quit. – Dopamine ranks high on this list.

DOPAMINE AND THE FEEL GOOD FACTOR

Dopamine is a chemical messenger (a hormone and neurotransmitter) that is connected to the brain’s reward circuits. It is associated with feeling good, and is responsible for pleasure and sentiment. It controls body movement, stimulates metabolism, supports the circulatory system, and governs the information flow to the brain. It can either increase or decrease nerve cell activity, and has a long term influence on brain chemistry.  Smoking alters dopamine in various ways: Firstly, it decreases the levels of two forms of a principle enzyme (‘biological assistant’) which is responsible for breaking down dopamine. - This means that dopamine levels, and hence smokers’ feelings of pleasure and reward, are elevated.

Secondly, nicotine binds to numerous receptor sites on the dopamine nerve cells in the brain. -This is thought to activate the release of dopamine which brings on a ‘high’ due to feelings of pleasure and reward. And when there is too much dopamine the body ‘down regulates’ dopamine production - hence the need for more nicotine to attain the same level of satisfaction.
Note: An enzyme is an extremely important substance which can speed up the rate of reactions in the body. There are hundreds of different ones in each cell, each with their own specific functions.

On the subject of the long-lasting effects that nicotine has on the signaling of nerve cells in the dopamine system, in 2006, Marina Picciotto Ph.D. of Yale University, commented ‘We believe that these changes in signaling may explain why people who quit smoking can continue to experience cravings for many years later or even start smoking again’.
Ref: Physorg.com (December 5th 2005) ‘New research identifies gene important for nicotine’s effects on the brain’ [online] http://www.physorg.com/news84537917.html  (Accessed November 1st 2011).

SEROTONIN -THE STRESS-BUSTER

Serotonin is a chemical messenger (hormone and neurotransmitter) that acts as a natural stress-buster and affects how we act and feel. It influences hormonal, temperature, and appetite regulation; cardiovascular function, sleep, memory, and learning. Nicotine increases the amount of serotonin released by the brain and generates a serotonin deficiency. - This means that smokers have to bear high stress levels. (Note: there is a genetic variability in both serotonin and dopamine function which can account for individual differences).

GABA

GABA is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) which prevents the release of dopamine (the ‘feel good’ hormone), by acting as a regulator. However, after an initial exposure to nicotine, a further nicotine influx throws the regulation out of balance, and dopamine is released – so now smokers experience a ‘feel good’ sensation for up to an hour.

GLUTAMATE

Glutamate is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) involved in memory and learning. - It is capable of enhancing the links between groups of nerve cells. The use of nicotine can stimulate glutamate to produce a ‘memory’ of ecstatic feelings which can keep you firmly in a nicotine straight jacket.

Glutamate has been shown to aid smokers’ satisfaction. When nicotine molecules fuse with cell receptors on the top of the brain stem, the cells release glutamate. - This has a knock-on effect which generates the release of dopamine by other cells in the region - this produces ‘the feel good factor’.

Dr Athina Markou and colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute in California, reasoned that ‘just as glutamate surges caused by nicotine give rise to smoking pleasure, glutamate depletion related to nicotine abstinence might underlie the displeasure of withdrawal.’
Ref: Patrick Zickler ‘Nicotine Withdrawal Linked to Disrupted Glutamate Signalling’, as cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Research Findings, Volume 19, Number 6, (May 2005) [online] http://www.drugabuse.gov/PDF/NNCollections/NNNicotine.pdf
(Accessed September 21st, 2011).

Researchers have demonstrated that the chemical acetaldehyde found in tobacco smoke, ‘dramatically increases the reinforcing properties of nicotine, and may also contribute to tobacco addiction’. 
Ref: ‘Is Nicotine Addictive?’ The National Institute of Drug Abuse [online] http://www.nida.nih.gov/researchreports/nicotine/addictive.html  (Accessed November 24th 2011).

GETTING THE RIGHT BALANCE

People who are anxious, impulsive or frail are often overshadowed by their smoking addiction, and there is a strong link between the need to smoke and  sufferers of clinical depression. Clinical depression and negative personality traits are high risk factors for both smoking, and not being able to quit. To that end, it is absolutely crucial that sufferers opt for a holistic integrative approach. And if it is financially possible, I suggest having professional support in some of the modalities suggested in my book, as long as it is approved by and regularly monitored by a medical physician. A low budget is no barrier.

REINFORCED ADDICTION—THE NICOTINE-ALCOHOL BOND

‘Amongst smokers, drinking alcohol increases motivation to smoke, the craving for a cigarette, and the pleasure derived from smoking’  Ref: Field et al., (2005) ‘Alcohol increases cognitive biases for smoking cues in smokers’, Psychopharmacologyvol.180, pp.63-72.

The fatal link between nicotine and alcohol is unwavering. - Smoking and drinking tend to set off a pattern of activity in the dopamine (‘feel good’) nerve cells in the brain. In addition, alcohol has a sharp effect on cholinergic receptors - indicating that it could well account for smokers needing to smoke more. And of course, heavy drinking brings on biological imbalance and nutrient deficiencies, just adding to the general dilemma. And unfortunately, cessation is thwarted by the power boost of alcohol in the body, which makes cues such as the site of a packet of cigarettes, more irresistible.  Anyone who has suffered themselves, or like myself, has had a close relationship with a double addict will understand this unyielding dual cycle very well.


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