Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Parkinson's Disease Health Center

Font Size

Nicotine Improves Some Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

By
WebMD Health News

Feb. 21, 2000 (Washington) -- It's the drug that hooks cigarette smokers, sending many of them to an early grave. But it may actually help patients with Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, Tourette's syndrome, and several other neurological disorders. The drug is nicotine, and it and other related compounds have shown promise in several recent clinical trials, according to results presented here Monday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The use of nicotine as a drug is nothing new, says Paul Sanberg, PhD, DSc, a professor of neuroscience at the University of South Florida. People in South America were using tobacco in the time of Columbus, and early explorers imported the plant to Europe. "I doubt there is a much older drug," says Sanberg, who is also chief scientific officer at Layton BioScience Inc.

Over the years, there have been hints of possible beneficial effects of nicotine, says another researcher, Paul Newhouse, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

As early as the 1920s, researchers were testing it to treat Parkinson's disease, a debilitating neurological disorder that affects about 1% of the population, causing rigidity, slow movement, tremors, and in many cases, dementia. And over the years, 34 studies of large populations have found that smokers are less likely than nonsmokers to contract Parkinson's disease, Newhouse tells WebMD.

But those early results were not followed up until recent years. To see if nicotine really eased the symptoms of Parkinson's, Newhouse and his colleagues conducted a small study on 11 men and four women with Parkinson's disease. The patients, who averaged 66 years of age, did not suffer from dementia.

The study participants wore a nicotine patch on their skin for 16 hours a day. After two weeks, researchers tested the patients' ability to rise out of a chair, cross a room, and come back and sit down, Newhouse tells WebMD.

Overall, the nicotine treatment made it easier for the men and women to move, he says. It also improved performance on several tests that gauge attention and memory. And many of the effects persisted two weeks after the treatment was finished, he says. But not all the effects were beneficial. "It actually seems to make tremors worse," he says.

Newhouse says that no one knows whether the drug will be beneficial when it is taken for years. That means that it is too soon to recommend a nicotine patch or gum to Parkinson's patients. "It would be rash to suggest that people go out and buy the patch," he says. The study is slated to be published later this year.

Nicotine's effects on memory suggest that it, or related compounds, also may help treat Alzheimer's patients. In three preliminary studies testing this possibility, nicotine, or a nicotine look-alike drug called ABT-418, improved the performance of Alzheimer's patients on tests of memory and attention.

Today on WebMD

Parkinsons disease illustration
Slideshow
Parkinsons Disease Symptoms
Article
 
Preventing Falls
Article
caregiver
Article
 
Parkinsons Disease Medications
Article
Questions Doctor Parkinsons
Article
 
Eating Right
Article
Parkinsons Exercise
Article
 
daughter consoling depressed mother
Article
senior man's hands
Article
 
Parkinsons Daily
Article
Acupunture
Article