Puffing away the years: smoking and early menopause

Posted by on Jun 3, 2011 in Early menopause | 1 comment

A few years ago, I wrote a post linking cigarette smoking to early menopause. And yet, questions remained about duration of smoking and the quantity of cigarettes in terms of their influence on timing. Hence, I thought that it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at the issue and see if there was more information.

A few facts:

It’s estimated that by the year 2030, there will be over 1 billion menopausal women in the world, with roughly 47 million women entering menopause annually. Yikes! That’s a whole lotta hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and the like. And, what this means is that information is power (and empowering). Importantly, research has also shown that early menopause is associated with greater mortality, heart disease cases and osteoporosis. In fact, for every year that menopause is postponed, there is a 2% reduced chance of death due to heart disease. On the other end of the spectrum is late menopause, which is also associated with health issues, including an increased risk for breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.

So, what are the factors that appear to determine the timing of menopause? Well, things like obesity, alcohol consumption, mother’s age, social class, long menstrual cycles, multiple childbirths, oral contraceptive use and even exposure to pesticides have been linked to later menopause, while smoking has been shown in multiple studies to increase the likelihood for early menopause. This issue may be even more relevant for the late Boomer generation who came to age in the 70s, a time when cigarette and marijuana smoking were the norm and not the exception. That generation, by the way, is my generation.

Here’s what we know:

In a thorough review of 109 published studies, researchers have found the following:

  • Current smokers appear to enter menopause anywhere from 2.5 months to 2.5 years earlier than non-smokers and have 1.3 to 1.7 times greater odds for early menopause
  • Former smokers appear to start menopause as much as 2 years earlier than non-smokers, with the risk ranging from 30% to as high as 80%
  • Although there is not a lot of information on the severity of smoking habit and menopause (i.e. number of cigarettes smoked daily), there is some indication that women who smoked more than 20 cigarettes daily were likely to start menopause as much as 2 years earlier than women who smoked 11 to 20 cigarettes daily
  • The relationship between number of years having smoked and early menopause is unclear

There are numerous reasons why smoking may lead to earlier menopause, including interference with estradiol levels, an increased loss of eggs and an increase in the levels of androgen hormones, which counteract activity of estrogen in the body. And, despite the differences between the studies that the researchers examined, they say that a clear link was demonstrated between smoking and starting menopause at an earlier age. The impact of quantity and time (or years) smoking is less consistent and still not completely clear.

The overriding message is that if, like me, you are a former smoker, you might find yourself in a position of starting menopause a wee bit earlier than expected. Consequently, there’s no time like the present to start taking preventive measures, like increasing calcium intake, changing your dietary habits or improving your exercise regimen. Mind-body exercises like meditation or yoga can ameliorate stress and improve overall wellbeing. And black cohosh? Personally, I swear by it. In concert, these steps might shut down or at least keep the magic menopause dragon at bay.

One Comment

  1. 6-14-2011

    Great story. It just occured to me: if there are 47 million women entering menopause wouldall those hot flashes contribute to global warming? 🙂

    BTW: You are totally correct about the influence of stress on menopause. Every menopausal woman should do whatever she can to fight stress. I know -easier said than done.

    PPS: if you are interested in a guest blog, let me know. The invitation goes both ways. if you would like a guest post on my blog, I would be happy to do that.


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