Cigarette smoking, despite its well-established negative impact on your overall health, may actually have a positive effect on a type of inflammatory bowel disease known as ulcerative colitis (UC).

Researchers think the positive effects of smoking on UC may be connected to nicotine, a highly addictive chemical. Nicotine appears to sometimes ease the inflammation associated with UC.

But research on nicotine’s impact on UC is not conclusive. Any benefits have yet to be definitively established. It’s unlikely that smoking will be recommended as a treatment for most people because of its many side effects. And there doesn’t seem to be a similar association between nicotine and improved symptoms for people with Crohn’s disease, another form of inflammatory bowel disease.

Learn more: Crohn’s disease vs ulcerative colitis vs inflammatory bowel disease »

A recent analysis took a look at the existing research and found that current smokers are less likely to be diagnosed with UC than people who have never smoked. Heavier smokers are also less likely than lighter smokers to develop UC. And former smokers develop the condition later than people who have never smoked. Also, current smokers with UC tend to have a milder form of the condition than former smokers and people who have never smoked.

Researchers think this may be due to nicotine’s ability to stop the release of inflammation-producing cells in the digestive tract. This anti-inflammatory action may, in turn, stop the immune system from mistakenly attacking good cells in the intestines.

Nicotine is not shown to have the same positive effect for people with Crohn’s disease. People who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop Crohn’s disease than those who don’t. Smoking may also trigger relapses, especially after surgery. It may also reduce the effectiveness of necessary medical treatments.

It’s not known why smoking appears to positively impact one form of inflammatory bowel disease but negatively impact another.

Learn more: Quitting smoking with Crohn’s »

Any product delivering nicotine may potentially have a positive effect on UC. Nicotine can be found in many products, including:

  • vape
  • chewing tobacco
  • snuff
  • dipping tobacco
  • oral tobacco
  • spit tobacco
  • nicotine replacement therapy products, such as nicotine gum and the patch

Smoking is not recommended as a treatment for UC. Tar, not nicotine, is the chemical in cigarettes most linked to cancer. That doesn’t mean nicotine is good for you. Any product which includes this highly addictive substance may have a negative impact on your health.

There are 600 ingredients in addition to tar and nicotine in the average cigarette. When combined, these ingredients produce over 7,000 chemicals. Many are poisonous. Others are known to cause cancer. Smokers with UC ultimately experience more hospital stays and less positive health outcomes overall than those who don’t smoke.

Learn more: 27 effects of smoking on the body »

And it’s not just cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco contains at least 30 chemicals linked to cancer. Cancers associated with smokeless tobacco include:

  • pancreatic cancer
  • cancer of the cheek
  • tongue cancer
  • mouth cancer
  • gum cancer
  • cancer of the esophagus

Read more: Oral cancers »

Besides addiction, nicotine gum has been linked to side effects including:

  • stomach ulcers
  • hair loss
  • nightmares

Vaping and the patch may be the two safest products since both can be controlled for dosage. But since nicotine is addictive, it’s not recommended for long-term use. Before trying nicotine as a treatment for UC, discuss this and other options with your doctor first.