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Nicotine gum, Alzheimer's disease

Created date

April 23rd, 2013
Nicotine gum, Alzheimer’s disease

Q. After smoking for over 40 years, I finally quit last year by using nicotine gum. But I still chew a lot of it because I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll start smoking again. Can the gum be harmful?

A. Compared to the known dangers of smoking, nicotine gum is certainly a safer option. It can, however, cause side effects such as gastric upset, mouth and tongue irritation, and difficulty sleeping. It also acts as a mild stimulant, and there was a fairly large study a few years ago that showed nicotine gum might be associated with heart palpitations and chest pain in some people. In addition, some study results show an association between oral nicotine and cancer, although those results are based on animal models and the risk is very small, especially when compared to cigarette smoking. Despite this research, we don’t really know enough about long-term use of nicotine gum to draw any conclusions.

The main problem with staying on nicotine gum for a long time is that it prolongs your physical dependence on the chemical, and thus increases your risk of picking up cigarettes again. Try transitioning to sugarless gum or another nicotine replacement product (such as patches), which may make it easier to wean off nicotine entirely. You might also consider attending a smoking cessation support group. And don’t forget to talk to your doctor—prescription medications are available, which have been shown to reduce nicotine cravings.

Q. My wife seems to be more forgetful these days. Her sisters both have Alzheimer’s disease, so I’m afraid she could be in the early stages. What are typically the first signs?

A. Forgetfulness is often one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Other common early warning signs are frequently losing things or putting them in strange places, taking more time to complete daily tasks, or impaired reasoning. It’s important to know, however, that there could be many other reasons for memory problems, such as medication side effects, underlying medical problems, depression, or stress. Treating an underlying problem can often resolve memory problems. Your wife should see her doctor for a complete physical examination to find out why she’s having memory problems.

Cheryl Ziemba, M.D.

Medical Director, Crest

Pompton Plains, NJ

Dr. Ziemba received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Queens College in Flushing, N.Y., and her medical degree from Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Urena in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She completed her internship and residency at Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, N.J. Following her residency, she completed a two-year fellowship training in geriatrics and adult development at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in N.Y. Ziemba is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics. She joined Cedar Crest in August 2011.