About one in five women smoke. If you’re part of that 20 percent, I'm sure you've heard all the warnings and finger-wagging about the health hazards of smoking. Maybe you’re tired of hearing about all that bad stuff.
Well, unfortunately, here’s more bad news.
Just view this post as informed consent rather than yet another attempt to scare the bejeesus out of you. You can ignore it—just don’t say we didn’t tell you.
Several recent studies on smoking and menopause have found that not only do smokers enter menopause early by about a year or two, but also that menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, are more intense.
The more you smoke, the greater your chances of early-onset menopause. (Your odds are more than double, according to a 2007 study of 2,000 women in Oslo, Norway.) Researchers think that smoking may affect hormonal levels or the secretion of enzymes related to hormones. It may also activate certain genes that trigger the onset of menopause.
Early menopause is troubling because it’s linked to heart disease and osteoporosis. In fact, a team of researchers in Boston have hypothesized that smoking rather than early menopause may be to blame for the rise in heart disease they see in post-menopausal women.
In addition to entering menopause early, women who smoke have more severe menopausal symptoms, and now a group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have specifically linked the severity and frequency of hot flashes to smoking and to genetic variations that control the metabolism of estrogen and the body’s response to environmental toxins.
In a 10-year study of 300 women, half of whom were African-American, smokers overall were about twice as likely to suffer from more severe and frequent hot flashes than nonsmokers. But with certain genetic predispositions, the African-American smokers were 84 percent more likely to suffer from intense and frequent hot flashes, while the white smokers were 56 percent more likely.
In an article for WebMD Health News, Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society said, “I don't think most women who smoke know that they are at risk for earlier menopause and more severe menopause symptoms.”
But now you know.
So if you suffer from hot flashes, and you smoke, you have one more reason to consider quitting.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.