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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

The End of Nicotine Addiction and the Promise of Precision Medicine

Dec 31, 2015 05:23PM
Publisher Robin Fillmore interviewed Charles Gant, M.D., Ph.D., in his new office and practice, International Precision Medicine Associates. Discussed was Dr. Gant’s ground-breaking work in the field of addictions and how it relates to Precision Medicine (PM). With the advent of President Obama’s January 2015 Precision Medicine Initiative, there is a growing interest in the promise that PM holds for all individuals. Gant, as an integrative and functional medicine doctor, has been using genetic testing to diagnose and treat his patients for many years—including those who struggle with nicotine (and other addictions).

This conversation serves as a prelude to a webinar that Natural Awakenings is hosting with Dr. Gant as the main speaker on January 24. Click here to register.

RF: Dr. Gant, you’ve stated that nicotine addiction is one of the leading causes of death in the world. To give us some context, can you state how you arrived at that?

CG: In the U.S. alone, there are about 450,000 deaths per year and 5 million worldwide that are related to smoking. It is the unspoken cause underlying much of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. The method by which we categorize disease, set up in the Middle Ages, is based on specific parts of the body. Medical specialties are still based on that system. We break down disease statistics by anatomy, but tobacco is behind many of the statistics, landing it as a leading cause of death.

RF: When a smoker comes to you with a desire to quit, what do you do?

CG: The first thing we do is to let people know that this isn’t their fault. The compulsion to smoke is simply an adaptation to the stressful, unnatural environment that we live in. People will gravitate to that adaptation based a genetic predisposition and/or a nutritional inability to synthesize certain neurotransmitters in their brain. Not knowing these basic facts of life compels an individual to medicate themself with what makes them feel better, including cigarettes, but once we know what it is all about – such as one’s genetic makeup, many other rational and healthy options become available.

RF: What do we know about the science of those who are nicotine addicted?

CG: The brain is made up of approximately 200 billion individual cells called neurons and each can have up to 10,000 connections with other cells called synapses. In order for one cell to communicate across the synapse with its neighbor, it must release a chemical messenger called a neurotransmitter. Many neurotransmitters are actually “feel-good” natural stress hormones in the brain. They are the chemical messengers that allow one brain cell to communicate with another brain cell when a stress is happening. They are made from the good stuff in our diet, the nutrients.

Drugs, like nicotine, take the place of certain natural neurotransmitters, and in this way, they cause an artificial psychotropic effect that mimics the effects of certain natural neurotransmitters—thus tricking the nicotine-user into believing that by consuming or smoking nicotine, they have done something beneficial.

Acetylcholine, the brain’s natural nicotine, is a neurotransmitter made from dietary lecithin and choline, which is especially high in eggs, soy and liver. It is one of the “feel-good” natural stress hormones that govern various aspects of memory, mood, behavior and thinking.

For a smoker, nicotine also stimulates acetylcholine receptors and competes with the acetylcholine for that receptor site. This nicotine-induced, overstimulation of acetylcholine receptors causes many of the pleasant symptoms associated with nicotine use, especially that first cigarette in the morning that smokers often crave. Over time, it takes larger quantities of nicotine to accomplish the positive change in mood, because the brain is synthesizing and releasing less acetylcholine in order to adapt to the presence of nicotine. This is called increasing drug tolerance and an addiction is born.

In the mid1980’s, research was published suggesting that nicotine also affects catecholamines, such as dopamine, the “natural cocaine” on the brain, a completely different neurotransmitter system. This information helped me refine my treatments to curb the cravings in my patients. Providing specific amino acids, available in any health food store, plus B vitamins along with iron and copper can assist in the synthesis of these neurotransmitters.

RF: How do you work with patients who wish to end their addiction to nicotine?

CG: Our first step is to have testing done to look at the patient’s neurotransmitters and suggest dietary changes like eating more organic eggs which contain lecithin, the natural food ingredient that is synthesized into acetylcholine. We also give a package of nutritional supplements that will help the body to generate other needed neurotransmitters. This tends to turn off the cravings so fast that many rapidly loose the urge to smoke. Genetic testing, especially of methylation defects and alpha-1 antitrypsin problems, is done to determine those most vulnerable to nicotine.

We also provide laser treatments on five acupuncture points on the ear to help with the detox, which is a very effective way to assist the endorphin system or the brain’s natural heroin. It is also important to make some lifestyle adjustments and we give the patient information to teach them some “tricks” to make the process easier.

Then we do a motivational segment to empower them to live this new lifestyle. This is a 15 to 20 minute session that really gets the patient motivated. To complete the whole process, we recommend three separate visits.

What promise does PM hold for those addicted and others?

PM is the future of medicine for disease prevention and treatment. Since all disease is caused by an interplay between genes and environmental exposure/diet/lifestyle, nicotine addiction is an easy to understand and modify problem. Precision Medicine, the medicine of the future will discover more gene-environmental interaction that will allow clinicians to make ever more powerful interventions. But we don’t need to wait for the supercomputers (or the data collected under the precision medicine initiative) to figure this out. Functional medicine doctors are using genomic data today to make a difference in people’s lives.

RF: How many people have you helped to stop smoking over your 40 years of practicing medicine?

CG: Many thousands.

For more information about Dr. Gant and his practice, call 888-727-6910 or visit InternationalPrecisionMedicineAssociates.com

Dr. Gant will be offering a free, live webinar on the End of Nicotine Addiction and the Future of Precision Medicine at 3 pm on Sunday, January 24. Click here for information and to register. 

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