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The Effects of Smoking on Menopause

While millions of women understand the process of menopause and begin to anticipate its effects in their mid-40s to mid-50s, the age at which menopause occurs may not be a big deal to some. Nationally, the average age a woman starts experiencing symptoms of menopause is 51 years old.

HFN 103 SmokingMeno RF2783236You may rely on genetics being the sole deciding factor at what age you’ll experience it and expect to enter the "change of life" at the same age as your mother or grandmother.  However, American physicians agree that there is actually a normal age range in which menopause takes place. A number of outside factors can cause menopause to begin early or late, but one of the predominant intervening factors that alters the natural timing of menopause for women in the United States is smoking cigarettes.

How Smoking Affects the Onset of Menopause
Menopause officially occurs when a woman experiences 12 consecutive months without menstruating. As a woman ages, the gene "Bax" combined with the genetic receptor "Ahr" naturally activate to signal the onset of menopause, but studies have shown that the chemicals contained in cigarettes (PAHs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) can also activate these genetic elements, leading to early signs of menopause.

Using mice grafted with human ovarian tissue and exposed to cigarette smoke, Jonathan Tilly, PhD and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that exposure to the chemicals in tobacco smoke effectively accelerates the premature destruction of eggs’ cells contained in the ovaries. This data indicates that early onset of menopause in women who smoke is due in part to egg cell death from exposure to PAH.

Just as smoking cigarettes causes a decrease in oxygen to your heart and lungs, it does the same to your ovaries. Cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals, with carbon monoxide (CO) being one of the most lethal. When you smoke, CO deprives your ovaries of needed oxygen, and your estrogen levels suffer as a result.

In the latest "Study of Women's Health Across the Nation", a number of health professionals observed 5,004 women for two years in the interests of discovering which outside factors have the most impact on the timing of menopause. Like the Massachusetts General research, this study provided clear data that suggest women who smoke at least moderately will stop menstruating approximately two years earlier than non-smoking women.

The Effects of Early Menopause
If you have been dreading the prospect of menopause and feel getting it over with as early as possible would be a good thing, think again! One set of data these studies have uncovered is an increased risk of serious illness caused by estrogen depletion. In fact, early onset of menopause combined with smoking can lead to osteoporosis, heart disease, ovarian or colon cancer, and a number of other severe illnesses. For every year that you smoke, your risk of a hip fracture after menopause increases. Smoking after menopause increases that risk even more.

Bottom Line
Estrogen protects the female body from a number of harmful conditions so it makes sense to keep the hormone in production for as long as possible.  If you smoke but are still a few years away from menopause, consider finding a way to stop smoking so that you will experience a normal and healthy change of life.  If you need help stopping, talk with your healthcare provider about your options. ♀

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