Best of Quit Smoking for GoodJanuary 6, 2011 Written by JP [Font too small?]
According to recent figures released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximately $200 million dollars are wasted each year in health care costs and loss of productivity due to smoking. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, smoking related deaths will reach the 8 million mark annually. These figures may be shocking to some. But by now, almost everyone is aware of the health hazards associated with cigarettes. Still, the fact remains that many people continue to engage in this self destructive habit. The harsh truth is that once you get hooked on nicotine, it’s not so easy to break free. But, there are some holistic practices that may assist those who are ready to quit to find some much needed support.
There are obviously many reasons why an individual begins and continues to smoke. It’s pretty well established in the medical literature that cigarettes are frequently used to manage chronic anxiety, clinical depression and ordinary stress. Therefore, scientists frequently look to mind-body techniques, natural anti-depressants and prescriptive medications that tend to target these feelings and the biological chemicals that control them. (1,2,3)
One of the most widely used naturopathic substances for psychological conditions is Saint John’s Wort (SJW) extract. In recent years there have been several scientific inquiries into the potential application of SJW in helping smokers break the habit. First, the more promising findings:
- In July, an animal study determined that SJW can inhibit dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin uptake in the brain. This allows for greater concentrations of these antidepressant neurotransmitters to be present and “may additionally provide a rationale for the treatment of nicotine or drug addiction with SJW”. These findings are supported by two other trials that found behavioral and biochemical changes in mice who were treated with SJW extracts. The mice in question exhibited fewer signs of nicotine withdrawal and greater concentrations of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin. (4,5,6)
- A 2006 trial published in the journal Complimentary Therapies in Medicine found similar success in 24 human smokers. Each volunteer was given a 450 mg capsule of SJW twice daily over the course of 12 weeks. By the end of the study, the “quit rate” was 37.5%, significantly higher than the average smoking cessation rates found with conventional treatments. No change in weight or adverse effects were noted. (7)
Unfortunately, other research has demonstrated less impressive results. Because the following experiments were conducted on human subjects, in a more controlled manner, they hold more weight from a scientific standpoint.
A study released in June 2009 examined the impact of 900 mg of SJW extract and 400 mcg of chromium (a trace mineral often used to manage blood sugar and weight) or a placebo in 143 patients. All of the participants received treatment two weeks prior to their proposed “quit day” and continued taking said treatments for 14 additional weeks. Those on SJW did not fair any better than those using the placebo. However, there was a trend toward less weight gain in the chromium users. Another human trial from 2006 failed to find a benefit in 28 smokers receiving a lower dosage of SJW (300 mg – 600 mg). (8,9)
There will likely be more research on the potential of Hypericum perforatum (SJW) in the years to come. Some scientists still believe that under the right circumstances, it may yield benefits to those looking to overcome nicotine addiction. But since the current state of evidence is inconsistent at best, here’s a brief review of several other natural options that appear to offer real hope. (10)
- Hypnosis – A recent study at the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center found that hypnosis outperformed “standard behavioral counseling” (20%-24% success rates vs. 14%-18%). Smokers with a history of depression responded even better to hypnosis. Other researchers have reported smoking cessation success rates of between 40% – 81%. The variations found may have to do with differences in patient selection and the forms of hypnotherapy involved. More research is currently underway to help determine how to best utilize this mind body practice. (11,12,13,14)
- Massage – An interesting, but preliminary study from 1999 found that self-administered ear and hand massage helped to reduce cigarette cravings, improved mood, lowered anxiety scores and ultimately diminished withdrawal symptoms in a group of 20 smokers. The portion of the group that practiced self-massage also smoked less by the end of the 1 month experiment. (15)
- Mindfulness Meditation – A pilot study conducted at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine’s Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention found significant benefits for 18 smokers who underwent 8 weeks of instruction in mindfulness meditation. At the beginning of the trial, the smokers averaged about 20 cigarettes per day. 6 weeks after their “quit date” and the mindfulness training, 56% (10 out of the 18 volunteers) achieved a “7-day point-prevalent smoking abstinence”. Those who practiced mindfulness meditation most frequently demonstrated the greatest results in terms of smoking cessation and an improvement in mood and stress levels. At present there are two other nicotine-addiction/mindfulness trials underway at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Pittsburgh. (16,17,18)
Source: British Medical Journal – July 2007 (link)
The most important point that I want to get across is that there really is support out there for anyone who wants to stop smoking. If the modalities that I’ve described above are not appealing to you, other options are available. For instance, certain forms of acupuncture and guided imagery appear to hold great promise in this arena. (19,20,21,22)
Ultimately, it’s vital that you quit by any means necessary. But the added bonus of incorporating these holistic practices into your daily routine is that they can also help improve overall quality of life. Reducing stress levels and improving mood impacts every aspect of perception. If you or someone you care about is struggling with nicotine addiction, I hope you’ll consider the alternative therapies I’ve presented here today.
Update: January 2011: It’s long been known that smoking accelerates the aging process. There are few organs that make this more obvious than the skin. And while some researchers are investigating the exact mechanisms behind this observation, others are examining this cause-and-effect relationship in more practical terms. A recent paper in the journal Skinmed reports that quitting smoking can lead to dramatic changes in skin aging and appearance in as little as 6 months. In fact, after just 9 months of being smoke-free, a group of 64 women reduced the biological age of their skin by an estimated 13 years. If good health alone isn’t reason enough to quit, perhaps vanity will provide an added incentive. (23,24,25)
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Hypnosis, Massage, Smoking
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Detoxification, Mental Health