Nicotine patches won't help you quit, but they might save your brains

People attempting the arduous task of quitting smoking often turn to "nicotine replacement therapies" like patches and gum. These help with the physical aspect of withdrawal and the whole "quitting the actual smoking" part. Well, that's the theory anyway. According to a new study published in the journal Tobacco Control, these nicotine replacement therapies don't help. At all. Their research of almost 800 smokers attempting to quit in Massachusetts saw the same relapse rate regardless of if they use NRTs or not. Regardless if they were light or heavy smokers or if they received counseling or not, chewing the gum or using the patches didn't seem to help.

However, all hope is not lost for the humble nicotine patch — it might just tremendously help people with Alzheimer's. It's been known for some time that nicotine has some neuroprotective properties — as evidenced by the lower rate of Parkinson's among smokers. Now researchers at Vanderbilt have identified that it can be used to help regain function for some patients with mild cognitive impairment. The study analyzed some 74 people with Alzheimer's and gave half the group 15 mg nicotine patches daily for six months.

For comparison, an average cigarette has around 1mg of absorbed nicotine, so the patches were the equivalent of around three-quarters of a pack of cigarettes a day. The nicotine-treated group regained 46% of normal performance for their age group on long-term memory task, while the placebo group declined by 26%.

Now, don't take this as an invitation to get your grandparents on coffin nails — cigarettes still have substantial dangers, even at an advanced age — but more refined methods of nicotine delivery may be able to stay the hold of cognitive impairment at least for a little while.