Nicotine could protect from COVID-19

Nicotine could protect against the COVID-19 virus, especially in more severe cases, by attenuating the body’s excessive immune reaction known as cytokine storm ―the uncontrolled response that leads to the release of a flood of substances called cytokines that, in excess, can result in damage to multiple organs―. This hypothesis, which was already pointed out by Chinese doctors at the start of the pandemic, is now shared by French specialists from the main hospital in Paris, La Pitié-Salpêtrière, one of the largest medical and research complexes in Europe.

Simple observations in recent weeks have already caught the attention of Parisian doctors. It was surprising that there were relatively few severe cases of COVID-19 among the prison population and among patients in psychiatric hospitals, groups with a high rate of smoking. Then, a study was performed with 350 hospitalized patients and another 130 with milder symptoms of COVID-19 who had been seen in outpatients. It was verified whether the patients smoked or not, and they were compared with the same age and sex groups of the general population. The conclusion was clear: there was a very small proportion of smokers among the patients.

Before the study was done, a world-famous neurobiologist, Jean-Pierre Changeux ―an expert on nicotinic receptors―, suggested that nicotine could prevent the virus from attaching itself to cells, preventing the infection from spreading. This hypothesis seems to be confirmed by the study and also after verifying that some smoking patients hospitalized by COVID-19, when forced to quit tobacco abruptly, would have worsened.

In this way, doctors believe that the presence of nicotine could decrease the excessive immune response that characterizes the most severe cases of COVID-19 and can lead to death.

However, these findings should be taken with caution until further evidence is available. Just a few weeks ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that smokers were probably more exposed to COVID-19 due to a pre-existing lung condition or lung capacity, since cigarettes and pipes could be contaminated when touched before with the hands.

Link to the paper: https://doi.org/10.32388/FXGQSB

Editorial Disclaimer: information published during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic may be updated frequently to reflect the dynamic nature of current understanding.

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