By Mary Sakacs

Smoking cigarettes has been said to be one of the hardest habits to quit. But being that it is so harmful on the heart and lungs, many smokers are trying their best to put down the cigarette and improve their health. Unfortunately, the beginning of this process can be the hardest and individuals find themselves unhappy and longing for a puff. While many may assume that this feeling of discontent arises from the inability to indulge in their previous and regular activity researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have found that this emotion is actually caused by an increase in a mood-related brain protein.


Senior Scientist Dr. Jeffrey Meyer used a brain imaging method, known as positron emission tomography, that helped him discover the protein he calls monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A).The way Meyer describes it, this protein consumes brain chemicals such as serotonin which helps maintain a normal mood.


By conducting a study on both smokers going through withdrawal and non-smokers, Meyer and his team determined that MAO-A levels in the brain increased by 25 per cent eight hours after withdrawal from tobacco smoking. These levels were higher than the levels of those un the group of non-smokers. Smokers with high brain MAO-A levels also stated that they had greater feelings of sadness. With the results from this observation, this study has also opened a window into perhaps why heavy smokers are at high risk for depression.


According to Meyer, this mood change due to withdrawal explains how quitting cigarette smoking can be so difficult. He believes that a substance in cigarettes called Harman could be the reason for these changes. While a person smokes, harman attaches to MAO-A and once withdrawal begins, the MAO-A levels increase quickly in the brain.


This study has led to the task of searching for ways to prevent this mood swing for smokers attempting to quit. Some ideas that Meyer has come up with are finding a way to develop new methods and therapies to help control this symptom. a cigarette that can somewhat screen out harman, or lessen the amount of tryptophan in cigarettes because tryptophan becomes harman once it burns. Of course, medication can also be useful for this emotional withdrawal symptom but that will take additional research.


While this common side effect for heavy smokers who quit cigarettes may be an unfortunate aspect, the upside is that now researchers can develop new ideas on how to help control this symptom. And more importantly, we must consider that the consequences that come with continuing to smoke cigarettes are far worse than those that accompany quitting.


Mary Sakacs is a student at Fairleigh Dickinson University majoring in Communications studies. She is currently an editorial intern at Bioscience Technology.