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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Health Note: Nicotine Metabolization

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a study that has found ethnic differences in the way nicotine is metabolized.


CURWOOD: Coming up, pollution and politics mix in the waters that run through the nation's capitals. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey:


TOOMEY: Chinese-Americans get less lung cancer from smoking than other ethnic groups. They smoke fewer cigarettes so that's one reason for the lower rate. But researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, thought that ethnic differences in how the body breaks down nicotine might play a role so they gave groups of Latino, white and Chinese-American smokers an intravenous dose of radioactively-tagged nicotine. Then blood and urine samples were taken over the next four days to measure levels of nicotine and its by-products.

They found that Chinese-American smokers metabolize nicotine 35 percent slower than Latinos or whites. That means they can satisfy their nicotine addiction with fewer cigarettes since the substance tends to stay active in their system longer. A particular liver enzyme is primarily responsible for metabolizing nicotine. As expected, this study found lower levels of this enzyme among Chinese-Americans. Researchers say the finding supports growing evidence that ethnicity can affect people's response to chemicals and should be taken into account in prescribing drugs and treatments, such as nicotine patches and gum. That's this week's Health Update. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.




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