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Nicotine Helps Banish Depression

Study finds an effect, but researchers advise against smoking

THURSDAY, Sept. 21, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Nicotine may help improve symptoms of depression, say U.S. researchers, but they add that that's no reason to smoke.

In their study, researchers at Duke University Medical Center randomly assigned 11 people who did not smoke but who were experiencing symptoms of depression to wear either a nicotine patch or a placebo patch that did not contain nicotine.

The participants completed questionnaires to measure their depression symptoms.

Those who wore the nicotine patch for at least eight days experienced significant declines in depression scores, the researchers reported Sept. 11 in the online edition of Psychopharmacology.

But, the researchers cautioned, this does not mean that people with depression should smoke or use a nicotine patch. Smoking is the number one cause of death in the United States, and the addictive hazards of nicotine far outweigh its potential benefits in depression, they said.

"The hope is that our research on nicotine will spur the development of new treatments for depression, which is a huge public health problem," lead study investigator Joseph McClernon, assistant research professor of medical psychiatry and researcher at the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation research, said in a prepared statement.

Pharmaceutical companies are already developing nicotine-like drugs that mimic the beneficial properties of nicotine while avoiding its addictive nature. These drugs are designed to target brain chemical imbalances, which have been associated with depression as well as other conditions, including schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Sept. 11, 2006
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