Richard G. Petty, MD

Cortisol and Cigarette Smoking

There is an interesting study from London that may help us devise some new strategies for helping people stop smoking.

Cortisol levels decline after people stop smoking, and this decline has been linked to smoking relapse.

The researchers examined 112 smokers trying to quit using 15-mg nicotine patches. They measured salivary cortisol levels and reports of stress, withdrawal, and urges before quitting smoking and up to 6 weeks of abstinence among abstinent smokers using the patch. Thirty participants both remained abstinent and provided cortisol samples at all measurement times.

The fall in cortisol is greater among heavier smokers and may predict who will start smoking again. People with the lowest cortisol levels were more likely to relapse and to experience withdrawal symptoms, the urge to smoke and subjective stress.

This shows us once again that the cortisol system is complex and implicated in many different functions. Those adverts that tell us that we should block cortisol to lose weight are way off the mark. Even if the products could block cortisol, they may have other behavioral effects. The findings from this study are also interesting from the point of view of continuing claims that chronic fatigue and a load of other symptoms can be a result of “adrenal fatigue.”

Try as we might, we have still not been able to find much credible evidence that adrenal fatigue is a real phenomenon. I am an endocrinologist and I’ve reviewed the research literature in great detail, but I am not yet convinced.

And we would expect that the toxins in cigarette smoke would lower cortisol, and that it should rise if people quit. Not the other way around.

“A drug is neither moral nor immoral — it’s a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole.”
–Frank Zappa (American Composer, Guitarist, Satirist and Song Writer, 1940-1993)

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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