Whether through cigarettes, pipe tobacco, or chewing tobacco, nicotine affects the body on a fundamental level by altering its metabolic processes. It's quickly absorbed through the skin, the mouth, the nose and the lungs, and travels in the bloodstream throughout the body. Nicotine's effects on the muscular system result from the access it has to cell receptor sites.
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Nicotine is contained inside the leaves of the tobacco plant, which makes it an organic compound. Its component parts consist of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen according to Medical News, a health information resource site. Nicotine's effects on the body are the result of its strong resemblance to acetylcholine (ACh), an essential neurotransmitter that regulates nerve impulses in the body according to Galaxy Goo, a science information resource site. As nerve pathways are present throughout, nicotine affects every major system in the body.
Acetylcholine receptor sites are mostly concentrated within the nervous system and the muscles. Once nicotine is in the bloodstream, it's attracted by certain receptor sites---ACh receptor sites---because of its chemical make-up, according to Galaxy Goo. As nicotine is a different type of stimulant than acetylcholine, its effects on cell metabolism processes are "unnatural," causing destructive chemical processes to occur within the cells. In effect, ongoing nicotine exposure causes cells to deteriorate or burnout, much like a stimulant drug does to the body when ingested in excessive amounts.
The muscular system relies on muscle cell metabolism processes to function efficiently, according to Muscle Net. The effects of nicotine on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems result in a decrease in the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach the muscles. Nicotine's stimulant effects increase the heart beat and blood pressure while reducing the amount of the blood that moves through the blood vessels. A decrease in blood supply means muscle don't receive oxygen and nutrients as they should.
Receptor sites are located on cell membranes, and are designed to allow certain chemicals into the cell. Chemicals pass into cells in ion form, and are attracted by certain electrical currents and chemical reactions on the inside of the cell, according to Galaxy Goo. Once nicotine passes through the cell membrane it affects cell processes much like a free radical material does. In the case of muscle cells, free radicals drain cell energy and oxygen supplies, which increases their workload while diminishing available energy and nutrients supplies. Ultimately, muscle tissue can die off as cells begin to deteriorate from the effects of nicotine.
A study conducted in 1998 by the Parkinson's Institute examined the chemical pathway between nicotine exposure and muscle cell death. Results from the study showed nicotine's overstimulation of ACh receptor sites releases excess amounts of nitric oxide into the tissues and cells. Nitric oxide is a gas found in body tissues. It's responsible for basic body functions like blood vessel relaxation and blood pressure levels. Natural secretions of nitric oxide are good for the muscles. When secreted in excess amounts, muscle cell degeneration can result.
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