Nicotine is a common substance in certain drugs. In fact we interact with nicotine most of the time without even stopping to think that it is really an addictive substance. Nicotine can be found in tea but again the level of nicotine will be different depending on which drug you are using. However nicotine has always been associated with tobacco and this is because it forms a bigger content of tobacco. Unknown to many, nicotine is the addictive substance in the tobacco and so should be avoided as much as other drug contents that are often considered more dangerous. Today, Nicotine addiction is on the rise and it continues to be the main cause of preventable death in developed countries. Despite of use of tobacco by people of all genders, it has been found that women and teen girls appear to be more vulnerable on certain aspects of nicotine addiction compared with men and boys. While the mechanism of gender differences in nicotine addiction is not yet clear, evidence suggests that while estrogen may underlie enhanced vulnerability in females, progesterone may protect females. Thus, progesterone may have therapeutic use for tobacco addiction, especially in female smokers. Researchers are working to establish the reason for this gender variation in nicotine addiction and the revelation will pose a greater understanding of the role of progesterone in nicotine addiction is important not only from a treatment purposes but also from a prevention perspective. The changes in hormones in the body of women such as those that occur at adolescence and during pregnancy and following birth. The changes in hormones that are also caused by hormonal manipulation like using methods of hormonal birth control may all contribute to changes in vulnerability to nicotine addiction.
In this article we will explore in reference to recent evidences from clinical studies how progesterone affects the health of a woman in relation to nicotine addiction. Depending on the data already availed from past researches we will find out the effects of progesterone during the initiation stage and even during the later stages of nicotine addiction process as a potential relapse prevention treatment.
Several studies have indicated that in spite of the public knowledge that nicotine addiction can be dangerous to one’s health, tobacco use has been on the rise especially on young women and teens. In a 2007 study results on National Survey on Drug Use research done by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration often shortened as SAHMSA found that Females aged 12–17 are also more likely than males initiate smoking. It has also been found out that women take shorter time to develop tobacco dependence syndrome after their initial use of tobacco.
Similar reports of enhanced vulnerability in females versus males have been reported among adult smokers. For example, among adults (18 years and over), although more men than women smoke, women take less time to become dependent after initial use, report shorter and less frequent abstinence periods and smoke for longer periods of time in their lives compared with men with the median cessation age of 33 years for males versus 37 years for females. This finding was reported by a research done by Pierce and Gilpin in 1996 in a study titled: How long will today’s adolescent smoker be addicted to cigarettes?
Of all the studies that have been available on tobacco use it has been found that women are more vulnerable to nicotine addiction as they also appear to respond less favorably to smoking cessation treatments.
A preclinical study on rats done by Donny and Clark with other researchers provided information that is Consistent with the above findings. In preclinical studies, adolescent and adult female rats showed faster acquisition of intravenous nicotine self-administration and higher break points on a progressive-ratio schedule compared with adolescent and adult males. Similarly, female mice showed a greater preference for nicotine in a two-bottle choice task compared with male mice indicating greater sensitivity of females to nicotine’s reinforcing effects. These studies point to important gender differences in initiation and maintenance of nicotine use that may contribute to smaller gains in curbing nicotine addiction in women.
Several research findings point out that Progesterone and its metabolites interact with multiple neurotransmitter receptors including GABA, glycine, sigma1, kainate, serotonin3, and nicotinic cholinergic receptors. However, most relevant for nicotine addiction are interactions with GABA. Progesterone’s active metabolites, pregnanolone and allopregnanolone, have positive modulatory effects on GABA receptors which enhance GABAergic transmission. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and has significant influence on multiple central nervous system (CNS) function. The positive modulatory effects of progesterone metabolites on the GABA receptors have been proposed to weaken drug reward. Remarkably, the effects of progesterone and its metabolites on GABAergic signaling vary with menstrual cycle phase and at hormone transition phases including during adolescence and during pregnancy. For instance, during puberty, allopreganolone’s effects on GABAergic transmission are opposite to those seen before and after puberty with results showing a reduction in GABAergic transmission.
It has also been reported that progesterone also affects signaling at nicotinic receptors. Specifically, both progesterone and allopregnanolone are negative modulators of the α4β2 nicotinic receptors. Progesterone has also been reported to increase mRNA expression of α5 nicotinic receptors.
Progesterone may avail a skeleton for nicotine treatment in women but more research need to be done on this issue so as the potential of nicotine addiction with progesterone can be examined. Dr. Dalal Akoury (MD) of AWAREmed Health and Wellness Center is an expert in integrative medicine for addiction. Call her on (843) 213-1480 for help.