Nicotine and Blood Sugar: Does Nicotine Affect Blood Sugar?

Find out how and why nicotine use negatively affects blood sugar, heart health, and overall well-being.

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
February 29, 2024
February 5, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Many lifestyle choices can affect blood sugar and the management of type 2 diabetes. While nutrition and exercise are lifestyle factors often at the forefront of managing diabetes, another thing that can significantly impact diabetes is the use of nicotine. 

Smoking cigarettes is a well-known risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Nicotine is a substance commonly found in tobacco products and has become increasingly available in alternative forms. It has long been associated with various health implications, including its negative impact on the cardiovascular, digestive, and respiratory systems. Recent studies have revealed that nicotine use may also negatively impact blood sugar regulation.

Keep reading to learn more about the relationship between nicotine and blood glucose.

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What Is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a naturally occurring alkaloid primarily found in the leaves of the tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum). Beyond traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, nicotine has permeated various forms in recent years, including electronic cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapies.

Nicotine is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream after consumption, initiating a cascade of physiological responses. Inhalation through smoking or vaping leads to swift absorption through the lungs, while oral consumption leads to absorption through the gastrointestinal tract. Once in the bloodstream, nicotine quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier, and its psychoactive effects on the central nervous system (CNS) begin.

Its rapid absorption is what makes nicotine so addictive. As soon as nicotine is consumed, the brain triggers the release of neurotransmitters, which reinforces the user’s addiction.

The History of Nicotine Use

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The history of nicotine use dates back hundreds of years, with roots deeply embedded in the indigenous cultures of the Americas. Native tribes in North and South America harvested and used tobacco plants for various ceremonial, medicinal, and social purposes long before the arrival of Europeans. 

Smoking tobacco, often in pipes or rolled leaves, held cultural significance among these communities, and it was introduced to European explorers and settlers during the early encounters in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. 

Shortly after, the addictive properties of nicotine were discovered, and tobacco became a highly sought-after commodity that shaped the economies and trade networks of colonial powers.

In the years following, the global spread of tobacco and nicotine use continued to grow. Cigarettes were developed in the 19th century and marked a significant surge in popularity and consumption. 

The industrialization of tobacco production and the advent of mass marketing further propelled the widespread use of nicotine-containing products. During the 20th century, tobacco use skyrocketed, but the recognition of the health risks associated with smoking started to become more apparent. Public health campaigns, regulatory interventions, and a growing awareness of the addictive nature of nicotine followed. 

In recent decades, alternative ways of consuming nicotine have become available, such as electronic cigarettes and vaping. This form of nicotine use was at first thought to be a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes but has since fueled ongoing debates surrounding public health and regulation.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="what-affects-blood-sugar">What Affects Blood Sugar: Factors Of Blood Sugar Swings</a>.</p>

Health Effects of Nicotine

In addition to being highly addictive, studies show that nicotine affects several systems in the body, including cardiovascular, digestive, respiratory, and endocrine systems. Let’s look at what the science says. 

Nicotine and Blood Sugar Levels

Scientists have closely examined the relationship between nicotine use and blood sugar levels. Studies suggest that nicotine may have both short-term and long-term effects on glucose regulation. Nicotine use appears to impair glucose metabolism in people with diabetes as well as those who do not have diabetes.

One study suggested that smoking cigarettes increased blood glucose levels in both people with diabetes and those without. This was the case regardless of how long they smoked cigarettes. 

Nicotine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, causing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and catecholamines. When these hormones are released, the liver is triggered to release glucose into the bloodstream, contributing to elevated blood sugar levels. 

Nicotine may also affect insulin sensitivity and secretion, which impairs the body's ability to regulate glucose normally. Changes in insulin sensitivity can affect the cells’ ability to take up glucose and use it for energy. When cells are unable to pull glucose from the blood, this leads to high blood sugar. 

Genetic predispositions, lifestyle, and overall health can affect how a person's body responds to nicotine use.

Nicotine and Heart Health

Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline, leading to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. It also causes blood vessels to constrict, which can negatively affect circulation. Chronic use of nicotine is linked to poor cardiovascular health and respiratory issues.

Nicotine also increases blood sugar levels, which increases inflammation in the body. Prolonged periods of inflammation cause damage to blood vessels, and it can also damage the nerves that control your heart.

The damage from high blood sugar levels leads to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Diabetes can also cause poor kidney health. When blood vessels are damaged, this often leads to high blood pressure. Chronically high blood pressure can lead to kidney problems like kidney disease.

Do Non-cigarette Nicotine Products Have the Same Effect?

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So, is it the cigarettes or the nicotine that has such a negative effect on blood sugar and overall health? 

Here is what the research says:

  • Nicotine-free cigarettes do not lead to high blood sugar levels.
  • People who smoked nicotine cigarettes but did not inhale the smoke also did not show signs of high blood sugar.
  • Nicotine-containing vaping products like e-cigarettes do lead to increases in blood sugar.
  • Nicotine-containing products like nicotine gum increase insulin resistance, especially when used consistently over a long period of time.

Researchers continue to study the relationship between nicotine use and high blood sugar, but currently, there is evidence that shows nicotine use can affect your health, especially when consumed long-term as opposed to short-term. The addictive chemical that is used in cigarettes and tobacco is the main reason why the use of these products is related to high blood glucose, insulin resistance, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

Blood sugar health seriously affects how you feel and how well your body functions. That’s why it’s so important to understand how different things affect your blood sugar levels. 

Signos CGM empowers you to improve your health by keeping track of your diet, exercise, sleep habits, and blood sugar. Knowledge is power, and a CGM can give you specific information about how your habits affect your health.

Signos has a team of health experts who compile evidence-based nutrition information to help you improve your health and wellness. Check out the resources here.

Find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="depression-and-blood-sugar">How Depression and Anxiety Relate To Your Blood Sugar</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Mishra A, Chaturvedi P, Datta S, Sinukumar S, Joshi P, Garg A. Harmful effects of nicotine. Indian J Med Paediatr Oncol. 2015;36(1):24-31. doi:10.4103/0971-5851.151771
  2. Chen Z, Liu XA, Kenny PJ. Central and peripheral actions of nicotine that influence blood glucose homeostasis and the development of diabetes. Pharmacol Res. 2023;194:106860. doi:10.1016/j.phrs.2023.106860
  3. Bornemisza P, Suciu I. Effect of cigarette smoking on the blood glucose level in normals and diabetics. Med Interne. 1980;18(4):353-356.

About the author

Victoria Whittington earned her Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama and has over 10 years of experience in the health and fitness industry.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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