Can nicotine, that addictive chemical found in tobacco and e-cigarettes, help your aging brain?

Researchers at Texas A&M found that, when given independently from tobacco, the maligned chemical helps protect the aging brain and may even hold off Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Apparently nicotine’s protective abilities may have something to do with its power to suppress appetite, according to Ursula Winzer-Serhan, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. The study was published in the Open Access Journal of Toxicology.

This information coincides with previous research that has shown nicotine’s possible cognitive benefits by binding and activating certain receptors in the brain. These receptors, in turn, have been found to reduce neurodegeneration.

For their study, the Texas A&M researchers added nicotine to the lab mice’s drinking water. The mice were divided into four groups: those who received no nicotine and those who received low, medium and high concentrations of nicotine.

The low- and medium-dosed mice showed no changes in food intake, body weight or number of receptors in the brain where nicotine acts. There was also no trace of nicotine in their blood.

However, the high-dosed group ate less, gained less weight and had more receptors, leading the researchers to conclude that the drug gets into the brain and impacts behavior at higher doses. What’s more, the high-dosed animals didn’t have the suspected behavioral side effects, such as anxiety.