Nicotine: The Controversial Fat Loss Agent and Brain Nootropic
Nicotine is the one word that stokes images of death, cancer, yellow teeth, and damaged lungs in the mind of the average person.
But if you take a few minutes to dive deeper into the science, you may find something quite unexpected.
When you take away nicotine from cigarettes and tobacco products, and look at how it works by itself, it ends up being a surprisingly powerful cognitive enhancer.
Not to mention being a useful tool for anybody trying to lose weight and/or fighting off hunger cravings.
So how exactly does nicotine provide both of these benefits at the same time?
And what is the science behind why nicotine is “addictive”?
Keep on reading to discover why nicotine is the best pre-workout supplement you aren’t using yet.
What is Nicotine?
If you look up the scientific definition of “nicotine”, you’ll find something like this:
“Nicotine is an alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants (Solanaceae), predominantly in tobacco, and in lower quantities in tomato, potato, eggplant (aubergine), and green pepper.”
And despite only compromising a minute percentage of the tobacco plant (no more than 3%), it is arguably the primary ingredient used to make cigarettes more addictive and habit-forming.
On top of finding this compound naturally, it can also be synthesized from scratch.
Which is why nicotine is such a vital part of various nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products – gum, lozenges, sprays, patches, and more.
Funnily enough, you will also see nicotine being used as a neurotoxin in many insectide formulations to stop bugs from consuming vegetables being grown from the ground.
And despite its demonization since the 20th century as a dangerous compound, nicotine’s use dates back thousands of years:
“The tobacco plant is indigenous to the Americas and has been used as a medicine and stimulant for at least 2,000 years.
“Tobacco was first used as an insecticide in 1763.”
“In 1828, Wilhelm Heinrich Posselt, a doctor, and Karl Ludwig Reinmann, a chemist, both from Germany, first isolated nicotine from the tobacco plant and identified it as a poison.”
It wasn’t until the 20th century where the world saw an unprecedented effort to label nicotine as a dangerous chemical that causes addiction and dependancy.
Consequently, this was the century in which scientists developed a much more thorough understanding of how nicotine works in the brain.
Nicotine’s Mechanism of Action
Here’s a simplified version of how nicotine acts in the human body:
“Nicotine binds to receptors (known as “nicotine acetylcholine receptors”, abbreviated as nAChRs) which are located on the smoker’s muscles and throughout the brain.
Nicotine stimulates receptors to start a reaction that results in further release of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that move between nerves, muscles or glands to affect many bodily functions, mood, and behaviour)”
As to which neurotransmitters are released, nicotine causes a neurochemical “flood” to take place:
“Most nAChRs in the [central nervous system] are located presynaptically, and they modulate the release of several neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholilne, dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, GABA, and norepinephrine.
…Activation of nAChRs increases extracellular levels of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex; these brain areas are thought to be critical in mediating the rewarding and cognitive effects of nicotine, respectively”
Aybody who knows their neurochemistry knows that some of these transmitters have different effects.
While serotonin and GABA are known to lower anxiety, dopamine is the “motivation” neurotransmitter, and acetylcholine and glutamate are heavily implicated in memory and learning.
This is one of the reasons why nicotine has a seemingly paradoxical effect: It can calm down anxious people, but it can also stimulate fatigued people who are lacking in energy.
The latter observation can be explained by nicotine’s ability to “enhance activation in areas traditionally associated with visual attention, arousal, and motor activation” (Source).
The YouTube video below does a great job of explaining I just talked about within 2 minutes:
# Top Health Benefits of Nicotine
As early as 1992, researchers were already touting the positive benefits of nicotine, such as improved long-term memory and enhanced attention span.
But what does the science have to say about nicotine’s health benefits, and what has been discovered since then?
Nicotine Can Suppress Your Appetite
If you’ve ever wondered why smokers seem to lose weight and never feel hungry, there’s a valid scientific explanation behind this phenomenon:
“…activation of hypothalamic α3β4 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) leads to activation of pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons. POMC neurons and subsequent activation of melanocortin 4 receptors were critical for nicotinic-induced decreases in food intake in mice.
This study demonstrates that nicotine decreases food intake and bodyweight by influencing the hypothalamic melanocortin system and identifies critical molecular and synaptic mechanisms involved in nicotine-induced decreases in appetite”
In the rat study quoted above, food intake was reduced by 50% and body fat mass was reduced by 15-20% (versus mice who did not receive nicotine)!
Ironically, this is the same reason why people who quit smoking have a tendency to start packing on pounds of fat.
So far, we have a bad agent to use on a muscle-building diet, but a GREAT agent to use during fat loss diets when hunger becomes a serious problem.
Nicotine May Speed Up the Rate of Fat Loss
I’ve previously written about how nicotine can get rid of stubborn body fat:
“…nicotine can help your body convert stored fat into energy that is then used by your muscle tissues. When your body is in a state of low insulin/glucose, using nicotine will help get stored fat out of cells and make it ready to be used as energy, like say, during cardio after weights when you’re carb depleted”
This observation is confirmed by several experimental studies conducted in rats:
“Sympathomimetic drugs increase energy expenditure via action on peripheral tissue and through regulation of metabolism in the brain… Nicotine increases thermogenesis in adipose tissue, partly by increasing lipolysis and subsequent recycling of fatty acids into triglycerides”
All the more reason why nicotine is a must-have tool for anybody going through a tough weight loss program.
Nicotine Improves Attention Span
Two separate studies conducted in ADHD patients (in 1996 and 2001) found that nicotine helped patients pay more attention to a task, lower the number of errors made, and reduced the severity wiih which they normally get distracted.
Even in smokers, a nicotine patch can help them better peform mentally-challenging tasks:
“In this study, 15 smokers — half of whom were wearing a nicotine patch — performed a demanding task that required picking out special sequences from a stream of digits. During the task, their brains underwent an MRI scan.
The nicotine patch wearers performed better on the task. They also had increased brain activity in regions linked with attention span when compared with the smokers who had been deprived of nicotine for a couple of hours. The patch wearers had higher energy levels, better focus, and greater happiness.”
Better yet, all of these results were replicated in adult non-smokers who were using a nicotine patch and DID not have any form of ADHD!
A meta-analysis of 41 human laboratory studies conducted betwen 1994 and 2008 found that nicotine significantly improved the accuracy of short-term memory and the ability to rapidly recall information stored in one’s short-term memory.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any definitive evidence for nicotine’s effects on long-term memory in humans.
This makes sense when you consider its mechanism of action, which is rapid and fast-acting.
Nicotine Shortens Reaction Time
One student’s exhaustive Master’s Thesis discovered that nicotine helped lower reaction time during a cognitive task.
This finding was also observed in a separate study that examined additional parameters of reaction time:
“… nicotine produced significantly faster correct responses on the logical reasoning test, more target hits, faster reaction times and improved sensitivity on the RVIP task, and more correct responses on word recognition”
It’s no surprise to me, therefore, why many athletes claim nicotine can help improve their athletic performance.
Nicotine Enhances Numerous Aspects of Cognition
So where else does nicotine improve our overall brainpower?
If you take a look at the medical literature made available to the public, you will start to notice some interesting benefits pop up:
- Lowers the symptoms of depression in nonsmokers
- Improves driving performance in smokers
- Enhances overall performance in pilots undertaking long flights
- Increases “time to exhaustion” in athletes
- “Increases brain functional network efficiency”
One Reddit user describes using nicotine as a cognitive enhancer in the following manner:
“There’s a weird sort of calming effect, like letting out a breath you didn’t realize you had been holding. Good for going from “mental flailing when learning hard thing” to “alright, focus on one thing at a time”. This part is nice, it’s a combination anxiolytic/focus booster.”
And one professor of experimental psychology went as far as to describe nicotine as “the most reliable cognitive enhancer that we currently have”:
“The cognitive-enhancing effects of nicotine in a normal population are more robust than you get with any other agent. We’ve demonstrated that you can get an effect from nicotine on prospective memory,” Rusted said. “It’s a small effect, maybe a 15 percent improvement.
It’s not something that’s going to have a massive impact in a healthy young individual. But we think it’s doing it by allowing you to redeploy your attention more rapidly, switching from an ongoing task to the target. It’s a matter of cognitive control, shutting out irrelevant stimuli and improving your attention on what’s relevant.”
Therefore, if you need a high-performance energy boost for meeting impossibly tight deadlines and handling unreasonable volumes for work, it’s worth your while to check out nicotine.
Nicotine Shows Potential for Treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Although this last claim is a stretch, researchers have spent the last two decades examining the connection between nicotine and several neurodegenerative disorders.
Even back in 2008, a published systematic review suggested that nicotine had implications for Parkinson’s disease therapy:
“…This reduced incidence of Parkinson’s disease has been attributed to the nicotine in tobacco products, at least in part, based on experimental work showing a protective effect of nicotine against toxic insults.
Second, several studies suggest a symptomatic effect of nicotine in Parkinson’s disease, although effects are small and somewhat variable.
Third, recent data in nonhuman primates show that nicotine attenuates L-dopa-induced dyskinesias, a debilitating side effect that develops in the majority of patients on L-dopa therapy.”
And just in the last 10 years, one human clinical trial found that nicotine could help lower one’s risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Much more research has to be done to explore how and when nicotine may be effective in treating this disease, but it offers some explanation as to why smokers reportedly have a lower risk of contracting Parkinson’s disease than non-smokers.
With regard to Alzheimer’s, nicotine seems to have more evidence for its effectiveness based on human clinical trials like this one:
“The neuroprotective effects of nicotine were studied in a randomized clinical trial involving 67 subjects in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, where memory was slightly impaired but decision-making and other cognitive abilities remained intact.
They received either a 15-milligram nicotine patch or placebo for six months. The results found ‘significant nicotine-associated improvements in attention, memory and psychomotor speed,’ with excellent safety and tolerability.”
The same result was discovered earlier in 2004 with another clinical trial investigating the type of cognitive impairment that takes place before Alzheimer’s disease:
“This study demonstrated that transdermal nicotine can be safely administered to nonsmoking subjects with MCI over 6 months with improvement in primary and secondary cognitive measures of attention, memory, and mental processing, but not in ratings of clinician-rated global impression”
As for why this happens, the best possible explanation is as follows:
“Newhouse and others have repeatedly shown activating nicotinic receptors in the brain can improve cognition. These receptors are gradually lost during Alzheimer’s.
Current Alzheimer’s medications aim to increase levels of neurotransmitters that activate the receptors, thereby boosting their effectiveness. Transdermal nicotine activates the receptors more directly.”
Something worth thinking about for any scientist looking at experiental treatments for neurodegeneration!
The BEST Nicotine Dose for Fat Loss and Improved Cognition
There are thousands of wrong ways to dose nicotine, and a few right ways that will help you achieve all of the health benefits I’ve just shared with you.
So based on my years of experience with using nicotine, here is what I recommend…
How Much Nicotine Should I Take?
I recommend starting with 1 mg of nicotine per day, gradually working your way up to 2 mg.
While I have seen some people claim success with using doses as high as 4 mg, I personally found it to be too overstimulating.
If your fasting window is longer than 16 hours, you can experiment with dosing nicotine twice a day.
You’ll notice the effects kicking in within 20-30 minutes of administration (sometimes earlier, depending on the individual).
When Should I Take Nicotine?
As I stated in The Metabolic Blowtorch Diet:
“To make the most out of nicotine, you’ll want to get your body into a state of low insulin, which means that using nicotine at the end of a fasting window is when it’s going to be capable of getting stored fat out of cells to be used as energy. Don’t use nicotine outside of fasting windows”
This means you should be taking nicotine on an empty stomach to ensure better passage and absorption through the blood-brain barrier.
And when I wrote The Testosterone Optimization Therapy Bible, I expanded upon why I make this recommendation:
“When your body is in a low insulin/glucose state (during the middle to end of a fast window) using nicotine will help get fat out of cells and ready to be used as energy.
If you have these fats ready to be used as energy but have glucose and insulin in the system (when eating carbs), these fats will NOT be mobilized as energy.This is why you don’t want to dose Nicotine outside of your fasting windows.”
For this reason, nicotine should only be used on fasting days if you want it to be truly effective.
And on those fasting days, you should take nicotine first thing in the morning before fasted cardio.
Alternatively, you can use it halfway through your fasting window – or near the end – to help reduce stubborn body fat.
If you do choose to use nicotine on training days for cognitive enhancement, I still advise taking it first thing in the morning on an empty stoamch.
How Long Should I Use Nicotine For?
I have found that nicotine is best used in a cyclical fashion: 4 weeks on, and 1-2 weeks off.
In an ideal scenario, you would want to use nicotine during the last four weeks of a fat loss diet.
This will help mobilize fat out of your cells to be used as energy.
What Method of Nicotine Administration is Best?
I have heard some people experience great results when using Swedish snus or nicotine sprays, but I have not personally tried them myself.
The ONLY hard rule I have is to strictly avoid the use of e-cigarettes, vape pens, and any form of tobacco:
“However, the interpretation of findings after smoking cigarettes is confounded by the fact that cigarette smoke contains many other compounds in addition to nicotine that may have cognitive-enhancing effects.
Furthermore, the amount of nicotine delivered via smoking is highly variable and dependent on the particular type of cigarette and individual smoking topography”
With some e-cigarettes, it only takes 1-2 puffs to get 1-2 mg of nicotine, and even then you don’t feel the effects kick in like you will with lozenges or gum.
Not to mention the link between vaping and an increased risk of getting infected with COVID-19, something you DO NOT want happening in today’s day and age!
How to use Nicotine and Caffeine Together
Some fitness experts recommend using nicotine and caffeine in combination to amplify their effects.
Indeed, there are numerous benefits to combining caffeine and nicotine together:
- Appetite suppression is further enhanced
- Faster fat loss via enhanced thermogenesis
- Improved cognition and energy
At the same time, there are some drawbacks.
Seeing as both compounds are stimulants, it is possible to overstimulate yourself to the point where you start feeling anxious and jittery.
That’s on top of your increasing your heart rate and blood pressure more than if either nicotine or caffeine were used in isolation.
If you do choose to combine the two, make sure you take nicotine and caffeine at the same time – 1 mg of nicotine and 100 mg of caffeine (roughly one cup of coffee).
Combining both caffeine and nicotine with intermittent fasting and high-intensity aerobic exercise willl significantly increase your body’s production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
As I wrote in The Metabolic Blowtorch Diet, higher BDNF production increases your learning capacity (i.e. you learn faster) and your ability to memorize and apply information will improve.
Nicotine’s Safety and Side Effects
As much as I love using nicotine for shredding stubborn body fat and boosting my cognition, I am well aware there are side effects associated with nicotine.
The most commonly reported side effects of nicotine include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Upset stomach
However, these are quite rare when you are using nicotine in the way I’ve described in this article (i.e. CORRECTLY).
It’s also possible for these side effects to come about when you start off with a nicotine dose that’s too high, so start at the lowest effective dosage and gradually increase the dose.
Other uncommon yet serious long-term side effects of nicotine can be some of the following:
- Increased blood pressure
- Possible acceleration of the growth of tumors
- Muscle tremors and pains
- May inhibit cognitive growth in youth under 25 years old
Again, these are extremely rare when nicotine is used in isolation and I have yet to see a single client report these symptoms when using nicotine for fat loss.
Long story short… just use common sense and you will be fine.
Is Nicotine Addictive?
This is by far the #1 question I get whenever anybody expresses concerns of nicotine being too dangerous to use.
And unfortunately, the idea of nicotine being addictive stems from rampant disinformation and a failure to understand the science of addiction.
The head researchers at Examine correctly note that the addictiveness of nicotine is entirely subjective to the individual:
“…the risk of nicotine and addiction is a measurement between how much nicotine is taken (with more nicotine being associated with greater risk) and the speed of nicotine reaching the brain (with faster spikes in neural concentration being associated with both greater perceived benefits and greater risk of addiction). Faster spikes are often inhaled (by way of cigarettes).
Addiction is not inherent to nicotine, as is evidenced by nicotine therapy being used to curb cigarette addictions. Gums and patches have less potential risk for addiction than do cigarettes (with inhalers in the middle) due to speed nicotine reaches the brain.”
On top of HOW you use nicotine, the type of individual you are has a significant effect on how hooked you will get.
Individuals with pre-existing mood disorders such as schizophrenia and ADHD find themselves more likely to become dependent on nicotine.
A lot of the misunderstanding behind nicotine addiction comes down to the inability to distinguish between the nicotine chemical and tobacco itself.
This was definitively proven when a popular report published in 1988 by the US Surgeon General attempted to assert nicotine was inherently addictive:
“The report leads with the summary statement that “Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction”, and goes on to suggest that nicotine is similar in its level of addictiveness to heroin.
Today this report is viewed as flawed, because it drew on studies of tobacco use to establish the addictiveness of nicotine, rather than studies on nicotine in isolation.”
Moreover, please remember that the chemical known as nicotine is one of many THOUSANDS of cancer-causing, addiction-forming chemicals found in tobacco and cigarette products:
“Acetaldehyde, another chemical prevalent in tobacco smoke, is known to enhance the addictive properties of nicotine.
Other chemicals that keep smokers hooked on tobacco include anabasine, nornicotine, anatabine, cotinine, and myosmine.
Interestingly, animal studies show nicotine to be only mildly addictive.
Plus, some research indicates that the craving for cigarettes is due more to smoking being a well-ingrained habit rather than a true addiction”
As for my own experience and those of the thousands of high-profile clients I’ve worked with…
It is extremely unlikely for a healthy adult to experience negative side effects or nicotine dependence when they are using my dosing protocol mentioned earlier in this article.
That’s because you are using nicotine as a TOOL for a short period of time at the lowest effective dosage to achieve a very specific purpose.
So long as you are using nicotine during intermittent fasting windows and limiting its use to just a few weeks, it is overall a safe fat loss agent.
If you want to learn more about the myth behind “nicotine addiction”, I implore you to read these two resources:
- Two separate long-form reports (here and here) debunking the points made by the US Surgeon General in 1988
- A comprehensive collection of studies and discussions showing why nicotine is no longer addictive once it is isolated from tobacco
Additional Reading Resources for Nicotine
Although I’ve done everything in my power to present the most up-to-date research about nicotine, you may be far more interested in how this molecule works in the human body.
If you’re one of such individuals, I’ve compiled some must-read resources on using nicotine to fully optimize your health…
Nicotine Declassified – written by John Kiefer, this is a short yet jam-packed book on how nicotine can be used for fat loss and muscle growth (and why it works)
Dave Asprey has a well-written guide reviewing the different methods of nicotine administration and which ones are most preferred for experiencing the full spectrum of nicotine’s health benefits.
This comprehensive testimonial showcases an individual using nicotine gum and nicotine patches to enhance his performance in a test measuring cognition.
SelfHacked writes about several health benefits of nicotine I have not discussed in this article, such as pain reduction, reducing inflammation, and improving gut health.
Last but certainly not least, this informative YouTube video is a great summary of all the main points discussed in this article:
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