Nicotine Addiction Level May Predict Weight Gain in Ex-Smokers
On average, people in study put on less than 3 pounds in 3 months after quitting
The results suggest that heavily addicted smokers undergoing smoking cessation therapy might need additional behavioral therapy to help prevent weight gain, said study co-author Dr. Koji Hasegawa, director of Kyoto Medical Center's division of translational research.
"Measurement of nicotine dependence is very important before smokers try to quit," Hasegawa said. "Doctors seeing smoking patients, or smokers by themselves, can anticipate whether their body weight will increase or not after they quit smoking. There are effective interventions to reduce the extent of weight gain."
The study focused on 186 people who sought help for smoking cessation at the Kyoto Medical Center's outpatient clinic.
Doctors supplied roughly half with nicotine patches, and the other half with varenicline. They then tracked the patients' weight gain, as well as factors such as depression, cholesterol levels and nicotine addiction that might influence the amount of weight gained while quitting smoking.
"Body weight gain after smoking cessation is a proven syndrome of nicotine withdrawal, as nicotine in the brain facilitates release of dopamine, which suppresses appetite," Hasegawa said.
Nicotine also causes a metabolism boost that helps keep weight off. "You have to eat less when you quit smoking to not gain weight," Healton said. "If you are smoking a pack a day and you stop, but you continue eating the same amount of calories every day, you will gain weight."
However, the person's weight gain tended to be more pronounced if they received a higher score on a standard test for nicotine dependence, implying a more severe addiction to nicotine. In fact, nicotine dependence proved the most significant factor related to weight gain.
Healton noted that the average couple of pounds gained by the study participants is less than the usual weight gain experienced by smokers who are quitting. Men tend to gain about 6 pounds and women tend to gain about 8 pounds.
"As weight gain goes, this isn't much," she said. "This shows if people are receiving nicotine therapy, they should continue to have appetite suppression."
Both Hasegawa and Healton said it might be more beneficial for smokers to not worry about gaining weight and instead focus on successfully quitting tobacco.
"It raises the problem of trying to address two behavioral problems at the same time, depriving yourself of smoking and of food," Healton said. "There's nothing that will improve your life expectancy more than quitting smoking, and we know that at some point in time, usually a year out, smokers who quit are able to lose the weight they've gained."