Smoking and Early Menopause

It's a Fact of Life

Menopause is that time in a woman's life when her ovaries stop producing eggs; her hormones go AWOL and life changes - dramatically. In most case, the average age a woman becomes menopausal is around 52 years. That's if she doesn't smoke. If she smokes, she can go through menopause as early as 44 years of age. Two studies involving more than 3,500 middle-aged women in seven countries corroborated these numbers.

Smokers Begin Earlier

The fact of the matter is that the more a woman smokes, the earlier her menopause is likely to happen. And, along with early menopause come more intense symptoms of menopause and higher risk of osteoporosis. Women who smoke more than ten cigarettes in a day are 40 percent more likely to begin menopause up to five years earlier than non-smokers.

Early menopause has a track record of leading to heart disease and strokes, as well as osteoporosis. Hot flashes become hotter and insomnia, that is common with menopause, becomes far more intense.

Research Findings for Smoking and Early Onset Menopause

Menopause occurs when the ovaries cease production of estrogen. Its onset is associated with a gene called Bax and a genetic receptor called Ahr. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered the chemicals released in smoking have a direct effect upon these genetic components, creating what they call a "specific pathway" to killing ovarian cells.

The researchers in the study noted at the beginning of this article suggested in their writing in the British medical journal, The Lancet, that there are two possible mechanisms that link early menopause with smoking. One of them is the effect of nicotine on the central nervous system which possibly results in changes in the secretion of hormones involved in menopause. The second is the effect of cigarette smoke on certain enzymes that may in turn influence the way the body handles the sex hormones.

The association between menopause and heart disease may also be linked closely to smoking. Post-menopausal women the same age as pre-menopausal women have a higher rate of coronary heart disease. The deduction is that since smoking is known to increase a person's chance of developing heart disease and has now been shown to be a cause for early menopause, it may be that smoking is the actual cause of the heart disease.

As if You Don't Have Enough to Worry About

To add to the bad news, a study that appeared in the Journal of American Academy of Orthopedics showed that smoking impairs muscle, bones and joint health. That translates to higher risk of osteoporosis. Women who smoke have significantly lower bone mass which may be the result of the inhibition effect of nicotine on estrogen. Combined with the fact that women smokers start menopause earlier than non-smokers, women who smoke are at higher risk for osteoporosis, broken bones, fractures and bone weakness.

A woman smoker is 35% more likely to break her hip after menopause than if she didn't smoke and a former smoker's risk drops to 15%. The risk factor is based on the number of years a woman has smoked as opposed to the number of cigarettes smoked in a day. For every five years a woman smokes, her risk factor for a broken hip increases by six percent. It has been found that smoking after menopause wreaks more havoc in regard to hip fractures than smoking before menopause does.

A Bit of Light in a Dark Place

There is good news in all of this. Risk factor for fracture drops by two percent for every five years of smoking cessation. The score card can be balanced if a woman stops smoking for 15 years, which is the point at which there is no added risk of fracture.


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