(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Omega-3, the widely used capsules of fish oil taken for a variety of health benefits, has been found to significantly reduce nicotine craving and the number of cigarettes addicts smoke daily, according to a University of Haifa study.
Dr. Sharon Rabinovitz Shenkar, head of University of Haifa’s school of criminology’s addiction program and of the psychopharmacology laboratory at Bar-Ilan University, said that “the substances and medications used currently to help people reduce and quit smoking are not very effective and cause adverse effects that are not easy to cope with.”
But, she added, the study – published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology
– indicated that omega-3, “an inexpensive and easily available dietary supplement with almost no side effects, reduces smoking significantly.”
Chronic exposure to smoke-derived toxicants is the primary cause of progressive pulmonary and immune dysfunctions and triggers lung and other cancers. Cigarette smoking is connected not only to cardiovascular and immune system dysfunction and tumors, but also reduces the levels of essential fatty acids in the brain, especially that of omega-3.
A deficiency in omega- 3 damages the cellular structure of nerve cells and interrupts neurotransmission in areas of the brain involved with feeling pleasure and satisfaction. These areas are essential in the decision-making mechanism, and are very important in the process of the development, maintenance and relapse of the addiction and to the inability to stop smoking, according to the research.
Thus, omega-3 deficiency makes it harder for the smoker’s body to deal with its craving for cigarettes.
“Earlier studies have proven that an imbalance in omega-3 is also related to mental health, depression and the ability to cope with pressure and stress. Pressure and stress, in turn, are associated with the urge to smoke. It is also known that stress and tension levels rise among people who quit smoking. Despite all this, the connection between all these factors had not been studied until now,” Rabinovitz Shenkar noted.
The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study tested 48 smokers aged 18 to 45 – their average age was 29 – who smoked at least 10 cigarettes daily during the previous year, with an average of 14 cigarettes a day. The average age at which they began smoking was under 18, and they were diagnosed as having a moderate dependency on nicotine.
The participants were divided into two groups.
One group received omega- 3 capsules (“Omega-3 950” from Solgar, which donated the capsules for the study), and the other was a control group that received a placebo. They were asked to take five capsules a day for a month, and at no stage of the study were the participants asked to stop smoking.
The levels of nicotine craving and consumption were checked using a series of criteria, such as lack of control over tobacco use, anticipation of relief and satisfaction from smoking, and the number of cigarettes smoked each day.
These levels were measured at the beginning of the study, after 30 days and after 60 days, a month after the participants stopped taking the capsules. Each time the participants were tested, they abstained from smoking for two hours and were then exposed to smoking-related images in order to stimulate their craving for nicotine.
The findings showed that after 30 days, the smokers who had taken omega-3 reduced their cigarettes intake by an average of two a day, even though they were not asked to change their smoking habits in any way. No less important, they showed a significant decrease in nicotine craving.
A month after stopping to take the capsules, the participants’ cigarette cravings increased slightly, but still remained significantly lower than their initial level.
The control group did not show any significant changes in their craving levels or in the number of cigarettes they smoked a day during the two months.
Further research, Rabinovitz Shenkar concluded, will show whether taking omega-3 capsules is an effective way to stop smoking.