Smoking "Enhances" the Symptoms of Menopause

The Times of Life for Women

Women who experience menopause know that it is a very challenging time of life. Everything changes - sleeping patterns, moods, body shape, body temperature - everything. Women in this period of life, which begins in the late 40s and goes on to the 50s or 60s, are subject to all sorts of health issues, many of which can be life threatening.

The primary cause of death in women is heart disease, and it is no surprise that smoking is a primary contributor to this ailment. Health issues, like cancer, emphysema, and lung disease are also contributed to significantly by smoking. Smoking has some very unique effects upon women, especially those going through menopause. It can promote early menopause, as much as five years ahead of non-smokers, worsen hot flashes (who needs that?) and exacerbate the fragility of bones making osteoporosis that much more of a hazard.

What is Menopause?

Menopause is the result of the cessation of estrogen production in the female body. When activated, the gene, Bax, and a genetic receptor, Ahr, cause menopause to kick in when they become activated. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered that the chemicals in smoking directly activate these genetic components, creating what they call a "specific pathway" to killing ovarian cells. Women smokers who smoke more than 10 cigarettes per day are 40 percent more likely to go into early menopause than their counterparts who don't smoke. The disadvantages to going into menopause early include heart disease, strokes, and osteoporosis. This should be enough to dissuade a woman from smoking, particularly if she is nearing the age of menopause.

The Symptoms of Menopause

The symptoms of menopause are many and varied. From night sweats that leave a woman drenched and uncomfortable to hot flashes that do the same thing during daylight hours, a woman has much to endure. There's no point in exacerbating the situation if it can be helped. Unfortunately, women who smoke are in for a rougher ride than women who don't smoke. All of the symptoms of menopause are exaggerated and compounded in women who smoke. Migraine headaches hit 1,000 on the pain scale, hot flashes turn into hot floods, and insomnia turns into no-sleep-at-all. The question to ask is: Is it worth the discomfort and pain to continue to smoke during menopause? The sane answer, of course, is NO.

The Effects Keep Going Long After Menopause Stops

It doesn't stop at menopause. The effects of smoking follow a woman past menopause into her post-menopausal years. Statistics show that if you are a woman who smokes and you have passed menopause, you are 35% more likely to break your hip than your friend of the same age who doesn't smoke. If you quit smoking before or during menopause, the risk decreases to 15%. The number of years of smoking determines the extent of the damage and the risk of fracture more than the number of cigarettes you tend to smoke. The math goes like this: for every five years of smoking, the risk of hip fracture increases six percent. The research shows that smoking after menopause has a greater effect on fracture risk than smoking before menopause. But, there's good news in the story as well. For every five years of non-smoking (after you've quit), your risk for fracture drops by two percent. If you stay away from smoking for 15 years before menopause, you have no added risk for breaking your bones.

The upshot in all of this is what you've known and heard for years. Smoking is not good for you. It causes cancer, lung disease, skin problems, and the number one killer of women - heart disease. If that isn't bad enough, smoking also affects your menopausal experience all the way through - before, during and after. Osteoporosis is a potential end game of menopause and estrogen reduction, especially in women who are smokers. Avoid smoking and you avoid some of the more serious results of menopause and you'll be able to enjoy your menopausal and post-menopausal years free from pain.