Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Study suggests how nicotine suppresses appetite

On average, smokers are thinner than nonsmokers but tend to gain weight once they kick the habit. The fear of weight gain stands as one of the obstacles to quitting.

But it's never been clear why smokers gain weight once they stop smoking. One line of research suggests that nicotine — the addictive chemical in cigarettes — also acts as an appetite suppressant. Presumably, then, some people add pounds after they quit smoking because they get hungry and eat more.

But another line of research suggests that nicotine, like other addictive drugs, activates the brain's dopamine-based reward pathway. Seen this way, extra snacking behavior may be more of an effort to find other sources of pleasure than a way to satiate hunger.

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