Scientists uncover why so many pair coffee with cigarettes in the morning

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While cereal and milk may certainly be a healthier way to start the day, countless people rise from bed each morning and immediately indulge in a coffee and a cigarette. What makes caffeine and nicotine a perfect pair? New research by a team from the University of Florida may finally provide the answer.

Their study finds certain chemical compounds found in roasted coffee beans may actually help alleviate the effects of morning nicotine cravings. Thanks to a cell-based approach, study authors were able to identify two coffee compounds that appear to directly influence certain highly sensitive nicotine receptors in the brain. For a daily smoker, these receptors are often hypersensitive after a long night spent without nicotine.

While this discovery has yet to be studied and tested on humans, Roger L. Papke, Ph.D., a pharmacology professor in the UF College of Medicine, says this work is a major step forward in our understanding of how caffeine and nicotine collaborate to affect nicotine receptors.

“Many people like caffeine in the morning but there are other molecules in coffee that may explain why cigarette smokers want their coffee,” Dr. Papke notes in a university release.

The team applied a dark roasted coffee solution to a group of cells which express a particular human nicotine receptor. The ensuing results led researchers to conclude a specific organic chemical compound found in coffee may aid in restoring the nicotine receptor dysfunction that causes nicotine cravings in habitual smokers.

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Additionally, Dr. Papke has an even grander hypothesis: one coffee compound, n-MP, may help curb morning nicotine cravings. He adds that he was initially intrigued by the notion that most daily smokers typically combine tobacco with coffee in the morning — and tobacco with alcohol in the evening. In comparison to prior research on alcohol’s effect on nicotine receptors, scientists have focused far less on the impact of coffee.

“Many people look for coffee in the morning because of the caffeine. But was the coffee doing anything else to smokers? We wanted to know if there were other things in coffee that were affecting the brain’s nicotine receptors,” Dr. Papke concludes.

The study is published in the journal Neuropharmacology.

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