How long does it take for nicotine to leave the body after I quit?
Nicotine is the addictive chemical found in in tobacco, and while there are thousands of chemicals in a cigarette, nicotine is the one that keeps you hooked. Whenever you smoke a cigarette, chew tobacco or inhale secondhand smoke, nicotine is absorbed into your bloodstream.
When someone quits smoking, often one of the first things they want to know is how long it will take before nicotine will leave their system. For most people, once you quit smoking, nicotine can still be detected in the bloodstream for between one and three days; however, it can still be present for up to 10 days in some people. This difference is due to the way nicotine is processed in the body and can depend on a number of factors, such as on the person’s metabolism, or other medication they may be on. There are a variety of things you can do to speed the process of nicotine leaving your body after you quit.
In an average cigarette, there is approximately 10 mg of nicotine. Of this, only about 1 mg is actually absorbed into the body. Once absorbed, enzymes in your liver break most of the nicotine down to become cotinine. This by-product cotinine can be detected in your body for longer (sometimes weeks) and it is eventually eliminated through your kidneys as urine.
- Nose and mouth – Nicotine is absorbed through the lining of the nose and mouth into the bloodstream. Nicotine can alter taste buds so food tastes different.
- Lungs – Inhaled nicotine also passes through the lungs into the bloodstream. This can result in abnormal tightening of the airways, production of phlegm and coughing.
- Heart – As the nicotine moves around the body through the bloodstream, it goes through the heart causing an increase in blood pressure and increased heart rate.
- Brain – In 10-20 seconds the nicotine reaches the brain to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters adrenaline and dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that causes feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
- Nerves – Nicotine can reduce the activity of some nerves leading to a decrease in muscle tone.
- Stomach – Nicotine can stimulate the stomach resulting in nausea and vomiting, although people quickly develop a tolerance to this effect. It can also reduce appetite.
- Liver – Nicotine is metabolised by the liver into a byproduct called cotinine.
- Kidneys – Nicotine is filtered by the kidneys to be excreted in urine.
Another interesting fact is that traces of nicotine can actually be found in your hair follicles for up to three months.
People often wonder why they still experience craving even after the nicotine has left the body. In fact, it’s because the nicotine has gone that your body is reacting this way—it’s craving the nicotine that is no longer there. In time, your body will adjust to not having nicotine and the cravings will disappear usually after the first week or two.
Smoking cigarettes/using tobacco causes nicotine to enter the brain’s reward centre, meaning it makes you feel good for a short time. The process is designed to reward us for positive behaviours like eating and drinking, but often occurs in response to things that are not so good. When you quit smoking – the brain thinks you have removed something good for you and takes time to adjust, which results in cravings for a while after you stop.
You may, however, experience cravings many months or even years down the track. These are normally associated with an emotional trigger such as stress. Once you identify your own triggers, you’ll be able to avoid them, prepare for cravings, and develop strategies to help you overcome them.
Factors affecting processing of nicotine
There are several factors that influence how long it takes for your body to ‘flush out’ nicotine, including:
Older people generally take longer to remove nicotine.
Research suggests that Asian-Americans and African-Americans may metabolise nicotine more slowly than Caucasian or Hispanic people.
Sex hormones like estrogen may help metabolise nicotine more quickly. That means that women, particularly those who are consuming estrogen hormones or who are pregnant, will remove nicotine more quickly than men.
- Liver function
Liver enzymes may play a role in metabolising nicotine.
Some antibiotics can speed up nicotine metabolism, while others, like amlodipine (medication for high blood pressure) can slow it down.
Speeding up nicotine elimination
There are several things you can do to speed up the process of nicotine elimination:
- Drink Water
The more water you drink, the more you urinate to release nicotine.
Physical activity increases your metabolism. As you burn energy, you also ‘burn’ nicotine as you sweat.
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods
Antioxidants boost your metabolism, and fibre can also help remove toxins, so look for foods like oranges and carrots.
Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can increase your chances of quitting by 50 to 70 per cent. However, if you opt to use NRT, you will still have detectable amounts of nicotine in your body until you cease all nicotine exposure. The positive news though is that you will not be exposed to the thousands of other toxic chemicals present in tobacco smoke. NRTs come in a variety of forms, including Patches, Gums, Lozenges, Inhalators and Nasal Sprays, providing you a way to slowly reduce your nicotine intake until you are ready to give it up for good.