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Short-term effects of spit tobacco suggest long-term health risks

and more than 750,000 adolescents use smokeless tobacco in the United States. Snuff use is increasing, especially in young males who participate in athletics. Its cardiovascular effects are not as clear or well understood as those of cigarettes, partly because fewer studies have been done, and partly because many spit tobacco users are relatively young and the bad effects may not be apparent unless use continues for prolonged periods.

Blunting a Protective Mechanism

By placing electrodes into the sympathetic nerves of the participants, the researchers also obtained a window on the message from the brain to the blood vessels on a moment-by-moment basis.

Normally, when blood pressure is increased by an external substance, the body seeks to protect the cardiovascular system by decreasing heart rate and dilating the blood vessels. It does this by "shutting down" the sympathetic nervous system, so that heart rate is slower, and the widening of blood vessels starts to bring blood pressure down.

The researchers demonstrated this by giving another group of subjects an intravenous medication, phenylephrine, to raise blood pressure about as much as they saw when spit tobacco was used. In response, those subjects' heart rates decreased by more than 10 beats a minute and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system went down to very low levels.

"This is an example of how the body tries to protect itself from the higher blood pressures," Dr. Somers explains. "However, when the blood pressure is raised by spit tobacco, the heart rate actually speeds up dramatically and there is no decrease in the sympathetic nervous system activity. This tells us that the normal protective mechanisms which help dampen down spikes in blood pressure are blunted when using spit tobacco.

"Spit tobacco is a very potent cause of acute increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenalin levels," Dr. Somers concludes. "Since many ath
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Contact: Lisa Lucier
newsbureau@mayo.edu
507-284-5005
Mayo Clinic
14-Mar-2005


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