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Nicotine vs. Coffee: Which Is Worse for You?

nicotine vs coffee beans held in hands

Nicotine and coffee are two of the most popular drugs in the United States and many other countries worldwide. Both can help you feel more relaxed and more alert at the same time. However, both also lead to their share of health problems, and many people want to know which one is worse. Keep reading as we take a closer look at both substances and discuss the pros and cons of each.

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Overview of Nicotine

What It Is

Nicotine is an organic compound that you can find in tobacco plants. It’s also in many other plants, including tomatoes, eggplants, green peppers, and potatoes, though the amount is much smaller. It’s primarily a stimulant, though it can also help relax chronic users.

nicotine in tobacco
Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

How It Works

Nicotine is an antagonist that binds to specific protein receptors in the body to produce a biological response. You can find these receptors in several places in the body, including the brain and the adrenal gland, and they affect communication between the nerves and muscles. When nicotine binds to these receptors, the body releases neurotransmitters that regulate mood and cause you to feel pleasure. It also affects muscle movements and heart rate.

What It’s Good For

People often use nicotine as a recreational drug because of its pleasure-inducing effects, and doctors often use it to help treat addiction, so smokers don’t need to quit cold turkey. It was also an effective pesticide for many years before the United States banned nicotine pesticides in 2014. Manufacturers developed a nicotine-derived pesticide, but the United States banned that in 2018 partly in response to concerns about its potential threat to bees. Scientists are also currently looking into ways that nicotine may be able to help with Alzheimer’s disease, Tourette syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and more.

stack of cigarette
Image Credit: klimkin, Pixabay

Risks

There are several dangers associated with consuming nicotine. First, it’s potentially carcinogenic and linked to many lung cancers, gastrointestinal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and even breast cancer. Second, any smokers can also develop emphysema and peptic ulcer disease and are at an increased risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Pregnant people exposed to nicotine can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, and children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to experience health problems. Another major downside of regularly consuming nicotine is that it’s highly addictive.

Pros
  • Stimulant
  • Pleasure inducing
  • Can help treat addiction
  • Potential benefits for Alzheimer’s disease, Tourette syndrome, and Parkinson’s disease
Cons
  • Highly addictive
  • Long list of health risks

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Overview of Coffee

Coffee is a stimulant that many of us use to get started each morning. The primary ingredient that it contains is caffeine, a naturally occurring drug that you can find in coffee, tea, chocolate, and many other plants. The caffeine is usually extracted from the coffee bean or tea leaf by steeping it in hot water. Hotter water and longer steeping times will create a beverage with more caffeine.

woman drinking coffee
Image Credit: Chait Goli, Pexels

How It Works

Your body quickly absorbs caffeine from your stomach into the bloodstream, where it travels to the liver, which breaks it down into the compounds that affect your body. It blocks the effects of adenosine, which is the neurotransmitter that makes you feel tired. It also increases adrenaline levels and brain activity, promoting a state of alertness.

What It’s Good For

Caffeine is ideal when you need to get moving in the morning because it quickly helps you feel less tired. The increased brain activity helps you stay focused to perform better at your job or on tests. You can also find caffeine in cosmetic products because it can help tighten the skin and reduce swelling. Most experts agree that caffeine is relatively safe if you keep the amount that you consume to less than 400 milligrams per day.

chemex coffee maker
Image Credit: Zarak Khan, Unsplash

Risks

Unfortunately, caffeine is a strong diuretic that can lead to gastrointestinal problems. It can also dehydrate the kidneys and bladder, leading to the formation of stones. Since it’s primarily a stimulant, it will increase your heart rate and blood pressure, putting more strain on your heart and possibly leading to cardiovascular issues. Many people who consume too much caffeine feel nervous and are more irritable. Caffeine is also addictive, though the problem is easier to resolve than a nicotine addiction.

Pros
  • Stimulant
  • Fairly safe
  • Used in cosmetics
Cons
  • Addictive
  • Long list of potential health problems

What Else Should I Consider?

One of the biggest differences between coffee and nicotine is how you consume them. People usually drink caffeine but get nicotine through smoking or chewing tobacco. Chewing tobacco requires you to hold the product against the skin of the mouth, which can lead to tooth decay and cancer. Smoking affects the lungs and can also create a fire hazard.

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Conclusion

While coffee and nicotine will both provide you with a quick boost of energy, nicotine presents a much larger danger to your health. Using nicotine will make it more likely that you will have cancer later in life, and it can also lead to cardiovascular disease and emphysema. Smoking can cause issues during pregnancy and make children more likely to suffer from health problems due to their exposure to secondhand smoke. Nicotine addiction is also hard to kick.

Caffeine is also addictive and associated with a long list of health problems, but it’s much safer than nicotine because you don’t smoke it, and many health problems only occur if you chronically abuse it. Overall, nicotine is the product that is worse for you.

You may also be interested in: Caffeine Anhydrous vs Caffeine: What’s the Difference?


Featured Image Credit: Left: Nicotine (Afif Kusuma, Unsplash), Right: Coffee Beans (Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash)

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Ed Malaker

Ed Malaker, a veteran writer, has contributed to a wide range of blogs that cover tools, pets, guitars, fitness, and computer programming, and of course, coffee. He drinks a lot of it when he writes, making him an expert indeed. When he’s not writing, Ed is usually performing DIY projects around the house or working in the garden. He’s also a musician and spends a lot of time helping people fix their guitars and composing music for independent films.

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