A new study has found an area in the brain linked to smoking addiction.
“Smokers often feel it in their gut when they crave a cigarette,” said writer Carl T. Hall. “An unusual study of people with brain damage, caused in most cases by a stroke, suggests the compulsion to light up might be driven by the same little-studied brain region that helps us make sense of hunger pangs, nervous twitches, and all sorts of visceral body signals.”
Hall said researchers said the findings identify an important new target for research into the biological underpinning of addiction, particularly into how people who try to quit a bad habit are vulnerable to relapse. He wrote that the insula, also known as the insula cortex, is found on either side of the head, nestled beneath the more familiar wrinkles of the outer neocortex.
One study subject said it was as if his body “forgot the urge to smoke.”
“I liken smoking and other forms of addiction to a contest between the front part of the brain, the seat of rational decision-making and an overactive insula generating cravings deeper down,” said lead author Antoine Bechara, an associate professor at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute. “Addiction is acquired and maintained by a neural circuitry.”
“Beginning smokers initially might derive pleasure from tobacco, but longtime smokers who are trying to quit often say it’s not the longing for pleasure that keeps the habit going,” explained Hall. “Other brain regions, particularly those involved in memory and reward, are clearly involved in any learned habit like cigarette smoking.”
Researchers say they hope that it might also serve as a kind of “fuse.”
The study was partly financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the National Institutes of Health, according to research.
“The findings draw new attention to the low-profile insular cortex, which serves as a kind of ‘brain within the brain,'” wrote Dr. William Seeley, a clinical instructor in neurology at UCSF who has studied the insula in brain-damaged patients. “My findings were consistent with earlier evidence about the main functions of the insula. It has connections with every other part of the brain.”
A new study looked at only 19 longtime smokers who had insular damage, six with damage on the right side, 13 with it on the left. These smokers were compared with 50 others who had damage to other parts of the brain but not their insula, writes Seeley.
“Thirteen of the 19 insula-damaged people had quit smoking and all but one reported having quit easily and immediately after the brain damage,” said Hall. “A larger study involving more patients could find different results.”
In American Lung Association news, the American Lung Association of the Central States in Dallas, TX will hold their annual asthma walk March 31st at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, a 5K walk that starts at 9 a.m.
“There is hope. The hope comes from the intense lung disease research and the life changing programs offered by the American Lung Association,” said Amber Richards whose son Colton, 6, has severe asthma. “But this kind of help doesn’t come cheap and so I am committed to raising funds that can bring us another day closer to the day when Colton can finally just breathe.”
Colton doesn’t know the luxury of taking a breath for granted like most of us, said Richards, chairman of the 2007 Asthma Walk.
“Each day is a new challenge and he deals with it like the strong little man he has to be,” she said. “I draw my strength from him and my resole to find a cure for this deadly and misunderstood disease.”
Richards said the Walk has brought such joy to her family because they are doing something constructive to fight this battle.
“And I’m not alone because I’ve met so many others who are dealing with asthma and other lung diseases through this effort,” she said. “I’ve heard so many stories, some very sad and many that are life affirming. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or maybe it’s you – the Asthma Walk brings us all together for one day, a day to rally and take back our helplessness in the face of lung disease.”
On Feb. 23rd an Asthma Walk Kick-off Luncheon was held at Lone Star Park and stories from “fighting asthma moms” were heard.
The March 31st Walk will feature free food, music, health booths, bounce houses, clowns, and Walk Host, former Dallas Cowboy and NFL Hall of Famer Mel Rentro.
For more information, go to texaslung.org.